Reviews: NEXT STAGE THEATRE FESTIVAL: Foreign Tongue, Raising Stanley/Living with Tulia, Lucky, Athabasca

by Lynn on January 17, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Continuing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival at Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Foreign Tongue

Book and lyrics by Lola Xenos

Music by Daniel Abrahamson and Justin Hiscox

Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski

Choreography by Colleen Snell

Musical direction by Tim Monis

Projection design by Michael F. Bergmann

Set by Joe Pagnan and Konstantin Roth

Costumes by Katrina Fletcher

Lighting by Noah Feaver

Cast: Cynthia Ashperger

Kailea Banka

Julius Cho

Jenna Daley

Victoria Houser

Phoebe Hu

Allie McDonald

Mladen Obradovic

Nicholas Rice

 Kathy is a successful businesswoman originally from Peterborough, Ont. now living in Toronto.  Out of the blue she had a kind of seizure that put her in a coma for several weeks and when she came out of it she had an accent as if she came from Bosnia. This horrified Kathy but pleased Visnja (from Bosnia) who was on the caretaking staff of the hospital. Visnja feels sorry for Kathy because no one visited her in all that time. Visnja suggests that Kathy go to an English as a Second Language course to try and get rid of her accent. This provides an opportunity to learn of other immigrant stories, how the other students are trying to fit into a Canadian culture and how they wrangle amongst themselves. Yuri from Russia thinks he’s better than his fellow students and has little good to say about his life there. Madeline from China is frustrated correcting people who mistake her ethnicity. Paul Lee from Korea always seems to be breaking up arguments. And Visnja from Bosnia just wants to land a good part in a movie so she can leave caretaking—she’s an actress with great enthusiasm no matter the part.

Lola Xenos has written a smart, sharply observed, very funny book and lyrics about the immigrant experience from her point of view and those of others with accents a.k.a non-standard speakers. Xenos immigrated to Canada from the former Yugoslavia. Daniel Abrahamson and Justin Hiscox composed the music. The songs are witty, refreshing and beautifully establish aspects of the immigrant’s experiences. The musical is brimming with charm and is worth a visit.

Continues at The Next Stage Theatre Festival until June 20.

Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia

Created by Kim Kilpatrick, Karen Bailey and Bronwyn Steinberg

Directed by Bronwyn Steinberg

Visual effects and projections by Trudy Wohlleben

Composer and sound design by Angela Schleihauf

Guide dog, Tulia

Model and muse, Stanley

Audio description by Bronwyn Steinberg and Karen Bailey

Performed by Kim Kilpatrick.

Kim Kilpatrick was born blind but that never stopped her from living an independent. At first she was encouraged by her parents to be as independent as possible. She used a white cane to navigate her world. Eventually she was convinced to get a guide dog to lead her safely.

With a chirpy voice, a gentle sense of humour and an infectious optimism Kilpatrick tells us of the trials, tribulations and joys she experienced through four guide dogs. Each had its own personality; each informed and filled Kilpatrick’s life in different ways.

Director Bronwyn Steinberg has Kim Kilpatrick navigate the stage of the Factory Theatre Studio with her white cane, either sitting at a table stage left or stage right, and standing facing the audience at centre stage. Tulia lounged patiently in her doggy bed stage left until it was her cue to perform.

At the same time paintings of artist Karen Bailey’s various dogs, especially her dog Stanley, were projected on the back wall that augmented Kilpatrick’s narrative. Bronwyn Steinberg provided a recorded narrative at what we were looking at with the paintings.

Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia is a sweet, gentle play that provides the audience with a different way of seeing the world of a person who is blind.

Continues to Jan. 20.



Written by Marie Leofeli R. Barlizo

Directed by Sophie Gee

Cast: Christian Jadah

Katharine King

Nina and Sylvain are in bed. As the lights in the theatre fade to black we hear a blood-curdling yell from Sylvain. The lights go up and Nina  wakes him. Sylvain has been having nightmares. He used to drive a Metro, (subway train) in Montreal and one day a young East Asian woman jumped in front of his train and died. That image of her jumping in front of his train has haunted him since then. He lost his job, his marriage failed and he misses his daughter. Nina is an East Asian woman he picked up in a bar that night. There is a lot of banter about ethnicity, success, status etc. Nina tells him she is about to go to university on a full scholarship. She has worked hard because her parents are rigid in their expectation that she will be a top student, get top grades and win scholarships to the top schools. The pressure has been terrible for Nina. Nina wonders if the woman who jumped in front of Sylvain’s train also suffered from excessively high expectations from her parents and found suicide was the only way out. Nina suggests something else to Sylvain.

Playwright Leofeli R. Barlizo was inspired to write her play by the true story of a Vietnamese woman who failed high school, and rather than tell her parents and endure their disappointment, arranged to have them killed.

One is keenly aware how some cultures put such pressure on their children to succeed and that failure is not to be endured, even though failure is a vital part of success. We read about the mental and physical damage done to young people who fail to meet expectations. Barlizo says in her program note she wrote the play to start a conversation about this terrible pressure put on children to succeed in the Asian community.

Much of the play is both Sylvain complaining about his lot in life and that he never had a chance and suggests that Nina had a luckier time than he did. They bicker and he hits her twice. She stays in that shabby apartment for some reason, and she hadn’t even come up with her proposition to him. An audience is expected to have a lot of patience when something in a play does not make sense. Did Nina stay in that apartmen because she felt she deserved to be hit since she felt she was worthless? Hmm not sure about that.

Lucky continues until Jan. 20.



At 77 Mowatt, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt

Directed by Aaron Willis

Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Sound & fight choreography by Richard Lee

Tom (David S. Craig) is being forced out of his Vice-President’s job for a powerful oil company in Fort McMurray. They are putting a gag order on him and preventing him to work in the industry. Tom prepares to get even. In the meantime Max (Richard Greenblatt), a journalist with a nature magazine has come for an interview. Max went through hoops to get the interview even going along with asking only those questions deemed acceptable by the oil company.

Both David S. Craig as a smooth talking Tom and Richard Greenblatt as a very accommodating Max put on the veneer of being agreeable to the other until the gloves come off. Max accuses Tom and his company and the whole oil industry of ruining the environment, killing wildlife and polluting the air and waterways. Tom apologizes for mishaps and notes the millions his company paid to help the environment. Statistics wiz through the air as each man makes his points with more and more passion and raised voices. Max has come prepared to make his points in such a way as to get Tom’s attention. The arguments are made on both sides but it’s hard to overcome big business, greed and money.

I won’t spoil any of the surprises in this bracing play. But it makes one mindful of the whistle blowers in the past who made secret documents public in order to reveal the wrong-doings of governments. The whistle blower had to go into hiding in another country. I can’t say that much happened to the governments about putting a stop to their wrong doings. Only in a few cases have the forces of good won. (The impeachment of Nixon because of Watergate comes to mind).

Athabasca by David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt is full of passion, intelligence, anger and conscience. Aaron Willis has directed with focused attention. Craig and Greenblatt are evenly matched  and right up until the last moments one was not sure how it will end.

It’s the first time that the Next Stage Theatre Festival has had a site-specific production in the programming. Anahita Dehbonehie has designed Tom’s beautiful, rich office with shiny bookcases, imposing leather chairs, and the attributes of a rich executive. And the production as a whole leaves you with a lot to think about.

Continues until Jan. 20.

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