by Lynn on March 31, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Comments on two shows closing this weekend.


At the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written and created by Sook-Yin Lee

Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley

Set by Christine Urquhart

Lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Ming Wong

Sound by Ali Berkok

Cast: Christo Graham

Sook-Yin Lee

Dreadful. Unfocused. Rambling. Self-indulgent and self-absorbed. Only occasionally does the piece actually deal with the subject of censorship in the arts in Canada.

The idea of art and censorship in the arts in Canada originated with former artistic director, Matthew Jocelyn. Jocelyn originally hired playwright Zack Russell to write a play about how an exhibit of artist Eli Langer’s work was deemed child pornography in 1993.

Russell then approached CBC radio personality, actress, interviewer, Sook-Yin Lee to work with him. Lee suggested a documentary style to the work with her interviewing various artists and gradually Russell became secondary to the process.

The production starts off with a video of Lee interviewing Matthew Jocelyn about criticism of his programming in that it was felt to be predominantly white. The affable, articulate Jocelyn skirts the issue saying that those criticisms miss the larger international picture to his programming. His charm and articulation notwithstanding, his discomfort at the questions is obvious. Jocelyn has said that such criticism, that his programming is not diverse enough, is in fact censorship of how he programs. It’s a strong beginning to the show. There is also a reference to the early days of Theatre Passe Muraille when the police came knocking when the theatre produced of Futz, a play about a man who loved his pig.

But quite soon in the proceedings Sook-Yin Lee puts herself front and center in the question of censorship. She laments that CBC balked when she was in the film Short Bus full of nudity and real sex. She had to explain it was an art film. Then CBC cancelled her show and she likened that to censorship, blaming the Jian Ghomeshi debacle for her woes.

The production segues into a reference to the nude scene in Hair at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. For this Sook-Yin Lee takes all her clothes off and sings “Let the Sun Shine In” woefully off key. She took her clothes off later in the show to have a conversation with Christo Graham who was playing Zack Russell full clothed,  the reasoning of which of which escapes me.

The script, such as it is, is unfocused, meandering, sloppy, self-indulgent and unsuccessful in dealing with what was the original thesis, and God knows what it is now. The are conversations with Lee and Russell that seem to be stream of consciousness resulting in a mass of confusion and lack of rigor.

Director Sarah Garton Stanley keeps the movement going, perhaps to hide the fact that the script is faulty if non-existent.

It ends with an interview with Jeremy Dutcher the wonderful musician who won the Polaris Music Prize for his Indigenous recordings, that is powerful and true, two adjectives lacking from most of this dreadful show.

Canadian Stage Presents:

Closes: March 31, 2019.


The New Magic Valley Fun Town

 At Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Richard Rose

Choreographed by Brenda Gorlick

Set by Brian Perchaluk

Costumes by Brenda McLean

Lighting by Kim Purtell

Original music and sound by Don Benedictson

Cast: Caroline Gillis

Stephanie MacDonald

Daniel MacIvor

Andrew Moodie

A huge disappointment of a play that doesn’t know if it’s farce or serious, and it’s not comedy-drama, it’s just confused.

Daniel MacIvor is one of this country’s finest playwrights. His stories are detailed, complex and slowly but compellingly revealed. You sit listening, focusing and paying attention to the delicate, seductive way MacIvor weaves a tale and takes you in.

What then to make of the clunky, disjointed confusion that is The New Magic Valley Fun Town? It begins like a TV sit-com or farce and without warning falls into an eye-brow raising drama of childhood trauma and worse. Huh? Where is Daniel MacIvor, the gifted storyteller? Abducted by aliens?

Dougie (Daniel MacIvor) arrives in his shabbily appointed cabin? Trailer? laden with bags of chips, beer, junk food, a take-out coffee and a bottle of wine. In an extended bit of physical comedy and slapstick business he drops the bottle of wine, the coffee and then mops it up making more of a mess.

Cheryl (Caroline Gillis) arrives bringing a large package of toilet paper. More extended cheesy humour with Dougie yelling in conversation with Cheryl from another room.  We learn late in the play who she is. Sandy (Stephanie MacDonald) arrives and again we don’t know who she is until much later. Why the mystery?

The junky snack food is for Allen (Anderw Moodie) a childhood friend of Dougie’s he hasn’t seen in twenty-five years. Allen is a university professor. They have a lot of catching up to do while drinking and consuming the junk food.

The somber Allen telegraphs that there is a secret they both share that has shaped their lives and trapped them—Dougie in his trailer isolated from everyone (really?), and Allen unable to have any relationship with any woman (really!?)

The revelations are unsupported with information along the way. The humour is forced and the seriousness of the mystery comes from no where.

Not one of MacIvor’s better efforts.

A co-production with Tarragon and Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Closes: March 31, 2019.

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