Search: Dark Heart

Review: DARK HEART

by Lynn on January 31, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by Genevieve Adam

Directed by Tyler J. Sequin

Set and costumes by Nancy Anne Perrin

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Sound and composition by Alex Eddington

Cast: Genevieve Adam

Audrey Clairman

Michael Illiadis

John Fitzgerald Jay

Paul Rivers

Garret C. Smith

Brianne Tucker

Playwright-actor Genevieve Adam does it again—writes a play and acts beautifully in it that is bristling with life, vibrant language, mystery, danger and passionate kissing.

The Play.  This is set in New France, Ville-Marie, 1661. Dark Heart is a prequel to Adam’s first play, Deceitful Above All Others also set in New France and is about the wild and wooly world of pioneers, discovering a new world, peoples of different cultures, living by ones wits and being more wily than your neighbor and perhaps werewolves.

Amable Bilodeau (Michael Illiadis) is a soldier in New France and would really like to go home to France. He saves the life of Toussaint Langlois (Garret C. Smith) who thanks him by stealing his bayonet and musket. Toussant is a dangerous, brooding man of two cultures, and a courier du bois. What he doesn’t know about trapping and hunting in the woods isn’t worth knowing. He’s having an affair with Madeleine (Audrey Clairman) who is married to Seigneur Louis de Lamothe, (Paul Rivers) a rude and abusive husband and bully. Lamothe  came into a lot of land and it’s gone to his head, and no doubt other parts of his body. Nasty man.

There is Dr. Joseph Sarrazin (John Fitzgerald Jay)  who is also a priest who has urges of the flesh; Sister Marie St. Bonaventure (Brianne  Tucker)  who works with the Dr. and has her own urges and a secret. And finally there is Eleanore “Lizzie” Ramezay (Genevieve Adam) who never met a man she couldn’t come on to, flirt with and bring to his knees. These are the rough pioneers who settled the country.

The Production. Nancy Anne Perrin has created a simple set of three birch trees and a hide of some sort stretched up stage right for evocative flavor of people who hunt and use the whole animal. The costumes are period with large shirts and breeches for the men and work dresses for the women.

There is a robustness to Tyler J. Seguin’s directing. The space is well used with entrances and exits coming from the aisle of the auditorium. Relationships are well established, as is the rough and tumble world of New France in 1661. The acting is bold as well. Garret C. Smith as Toussaint is imposing and quiet spoken which makes him deadly. He doesn’t need to yell or be a bully to command respect. He just has to look and stare down his opponent and he wins. And the fact that he’s a master fighter helps too. Genevieve Adam sparkles as Lizzie. She flirts, pushes boundaries and has such smiling confidence in herself. Nothing scares Lizzie and it’s all in Adam’s performance.

 Comment. Genevieve Adam has written a wonderful period play set in 1661 that is also as contemporary as today. She has a facility for creating credible dialogue for that time. She has a masterful turn of phrase that is both witty and appropriate. And the story of the intrigue of these characters crackles along. Genevieve Adam is the real deal. More please.

Thought for Food Productions:

Opened: Jan. 26, 2018.

Closes: Feb. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes

www.thought4food.ca

 

 

 

 

 

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Live and in person at the AKI Studio (Daniels Spectrum) 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto presented by Favour the Brave Collective. Until Jan. 14, 2024.

boxoffice@nativeearth.ca

Written by Genvieve Adams

Directed by Tyler J. Seguin

Dramaturg, Keith Barker

Production design, by Kalina Popova

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Lighting designer, Imogen Wilson

Cast: Genevieve Adam

Montana Adams

Jordan M. Burns

Theresa Cutknife

Darcy Gerhart

Scott Garland

Brianne Tucker

Third in a trilogy of plays that take place in New France in the 1600s. Good, complex storytelling.  

The Story. Heartless by Genevieve Adam is the third part of her New France Trilogy. It takes place in New France in 1689. This is how the press information describes it:

“Two female Wendat warriors are looking for a runaway priest. A nun who sees visions and a young widow are looking for a lost city. A killer is looking for redemption. Their paths collide in a darkly funny tale of forgiveness, family and the terrible things that are done in the name of love.”

There are seven characters in the play and in one way or another they are connected. I won’t itemize all the relationships, but as an example: Anne is the mother of Marinette, the young widow. Her husband died in some accident when he was away from home, but his body was never found, just his canoe.  Anne is also the adoptive mother of Oheo, one of the female Wendat warriors and it’s Oheo who wants to find the runaway priest. Her cousin Sheauga is the other female Wendat warrior and is accompanying her cousin on this quest.  They are fearless warriors, accomplished and reveal different attitudes towards the white settlers etc. Sheauga has no use for them. Oheo is more forgiving because. Perhaps it’s because she is of mixed blood, or perhaps it also might be why she wants to find the priest.

The Production and comment. While Heartless is the third in the New France trilogy you do not need to be familiar with the first two parts. Theatre being so time consuming, it’s a long time between plays.

For example, Genevieve Adam wrote Deceitful Above All Thingsin 2015 for SummerWorks where I first saw it, and then it was remounted in 2017. https://slotkinletter.com/?s=deceitful+above+all+things

Sets up the premise of women coming to New France from the old world to start a new life between 1663-1673.

The second play, Dark Heart is a prequel of the first play and it takes place in 1661, so matters get complicated.

https://slotkinletter.com/?s=Dark+Heart

Characters in the first two plays are referenced in Heartless. Fortunately, Genevieve Adam is an inventive playwright and fine story-teller and each play stands on its own with its own story. For the most part, Heartless is a fascinating story, of different cultures and attitudes, the power of guilt, the independence of women in order to survive, redemption and love.

Genevieve Adam has set her plays in New France in the 1600s but her characters have a gritty vocabulary which is very modern especially the swearwords. But she also has vivid expressions for her Wendat characters. For example, Oheo, one of the female Wendat warriors speaks of a man who she loved in the past. She says: “his name is in my mouth.”  I loved that expression. It’s of a different time and culture and its meaning is so vividly clear no matter the time period.

Genevieve Adams has made her women tough, resourceful, independent, and vengeful if things don’t go properly. I found the way playwright Genevieve Adam depicted the attitudes of both cousins to be nuanced and subtle. Sheauga was adamantly anti-settler. Oheo is more forgiving perhaps because she is of mixed blood or it also might be why she wants to find the priest.

As I said, for the most part, Heartless is a fascinating story, certainly with regards to the title. So many things happen that are described as heartless—vengeance for example. Or a character is described as being heartless, as not having a heart in the center of their body.

But I found the character of Catherine, the nun to be problematic.  She sees visions (perhaps it’s that passion drink she is consuming). She is looking for the lost city of Hochelaga, the source of her people, now seemingly lost and her people, dead (it was a St. Lawrence Iroquois 16th century fortified village on or near Mount Royal in present-day Montreal). Unless I missed something in the dialogue, I thought Catherine was unconnected to the others, who are so connected. I found Catherine to be the weakest character. Is this Genevieve Adam trying to make a case for lost ancestors? Not sure. I don’t think the play would suffer without her.

We live in interesting times, where accusations of appropriation of voices is prevalent. So, I wonder if Genevieve Adam is appropriating the Indigenous voice through her Wendat characters of Oheo and Sheauga? Genevieve Adam’s bio does not mention if she is Indigenous. But her dramaturg is Keith Barker who is a member of the Metis nation of Ontario. He is the former Artistic Director of Native Earth. As dramaturg he would be responsible for the rigor in being true to any Indigenous reference as well as consulting in the overall process of helping the playwright realize her play.

The production design by Kalina Popova is simple and evocative: swaths of gold material in various formation hang down from the flies suggesting trees, foliage, different locations, etc.

Director Tyler J. Seguin does a good job of realizing the play with what is really a large cast with several locations. The direction is assured, efficient and keeps the pace moving without lagging. Generally, the acting is strong. Genevieve Adam plays Anne, an irreverent but confident woman, who has many secrets. She seems to control what is going on in the story. As the playwright she has written herself the best part.  She is funny, flirty and dangerous. Genevieve Adam plays these aspects with subtlety and never tips her hand until absolutely necessary. Theresa Cutknife plays Oheo who is anxious to find the priest for personal reasons. Her work is very moving.

I do wish that Montana Adams as Sheauga would speak up—she tends to mumble and speak softly. What Sheauga has to say is important…please speak up so that we can hear you. Overall, though I think the cast is accomplished and they tell the story with grace.

Favour the Brave Collective presents:

Plays until Jan. 14, 2024.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

boxoffice@nativeearth.ca

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More from the Toronto Fringe…

The Man With the Golden Heart – A New Musical

At the Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor St. W. Toronto, Ont.

www.fringetoronto.com

Written and directed by Andrew Seok

Music director, Jonathan Corkal-Astorga

Choreographer, Sam Jamieson

Lighting by Gordon Peck

Cast: Eunnie An

Scott Beaudin

Tess Benger

Rhoslynne Bugay

Rachel Delduca

Bruce Dow

Tristan Hernandez

Sarah Horsman

George Krissa

Charlotte Moore

Timothy Ng

Lee-Orr

Ted Powers

Andrew Seok

Annie Wang

Musicians: Jonathan Corkal-Astorga

Andrew Ascenzo

Alex Toskov

Andrew Seok, the writer and director of this stirring musical, has a huge beating heart and is brimming with humanity. He was concerned about the meanness and darkness of our present world and decided to write a musical full of the goodness of people in hard times. The Man with the Golden Heart is the result.

The musical takes place over three stressful times in our history: 1883 the building of the Canadian-Pacific railway by East Asian’s who were brought to Canada as cheap labour to build the railway; 1917 during WW1, 1929 the stock market crash. If I have the dates wrong it’s because I could not properly read the dates on the prop papers that characters unfolded to show us the dates.

Three couples go through hard times when they are affected by one of these events. An Asian husband works on the Canadian-Pacific and volunteers for a dangerous job to earn money they need; a young husband is conscripted to fight in WW1; a young couple is horribly affected by the stock market crash and it almost ruins their marriage.

To help these couples through it, a stranger, the man with the golden heart gives a bit of his heart to help them through the hard times, unbeknownst to them.  Unfortunately, by so doing he diminishes his own life until the matter becomes very serious.

Writer/director Andrew Seok has created a stirring, lush score. The songs (I wish there was a song list) cover such subjects as falling in love, trust, loyalty, making hard decisions for loved ones, forgiveness and hope. I must confess that often songs sounded the same, or it could have been the frequent reprises or what seemed like reprises.

The cast is first rate. They are led by Bruce Dow, the man with the golden heart. He has a strong tenor voice and spills his guts in emotion as he is compelled to help people in trouble. Playing the man with the golden heart’s mother is Charlotte Moore. She too has a strong voice and a compelling ability to act the song with conviction. Tess Benger, the War Wife, goes from strength to strength. She has a crystalline voice and she digs deep into the heart of each song. There is grace in everything thing she does.

I hope The Man With The Golden Heart has another life with some judicious editing.

Plays at the Jeanne Lamon Hall, July 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (95 minutes long.)

www.fringetoronto.ca

Fertility Slippers

Written by Ece Aydin

Directed by Christopher Legacy

Sound by Eric Kinsella

Cast: Aida Keykhaii

Parnian Pourzahed

This is a terrific piece about the cultural/generational divide between a traditional Turkish mother and her modern thinking daughter. The mother wants her daughter to wear slippers in the house and not just her socks on her feet. The mother feels that the slippers will protect her daughter from colds and illness and will keep her safe and thus make her fertile and able to have children. The mother also feels that their Turkish traditions should be maintained—that the daughter should meet a nice Turkish man and marry him. The daughter wants to be independent and chose whoever she wants as her partner.

To show the divide, the daughter wears a “Green Day” sweatshirt (the rock group). The mother wears modern garb but also scarves that represent a Turkish connection. The mother peppers her English dialogue with snippets of Turkish endearments and other Turkish comments. One doesn’t need to know Turkish to get the gist of the conversation of the mother.

The acting is divine of Aida Keykhaii as the mother, and Parnian Pourzahed as the daughter. The affection of both mother and daughter is clear in these lovely performances. The mother is gently pushy and over protective and the daughter is subtly frustrated by the push and the protection. They tug and push with equal measure creating a lovely dynamic.

Playwright Ece Aydin has written a story that is specifically between a Turkish mother and her modern-thinking Turkish daughter, and by being specific Ece Aydin has written a universal story that is recognizable no matter what culture you are from.

Christopher Legacy has directed Fertility Slippers with care, whimsy and a lovely sense of buoyancy. And Aida Keykhaii does some pretty impressive Turkish dancing as well.

Pure joy.

Fertility Slippers continues at the Tank House at the Young Centre  July 12, 14, 15, 16.

www.fringetoronto.com

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Live, in person at part of the Bees in the Bush Festival at Talk Is Free Theater, inside The Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop St. W., Barrie, Ont. Until Sept. 25, 2021.

www.tift.ca

Conceived by and performed by Michael Torontow

Music direction and accompaniment by Mark Camilleri.

Actor-singer-director Michael Torontow has the guts of a bandit. He approaches work outside his comfort zone that scares him and stares it down. In musicals such as: Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, The Light in the Piazza, Hairspray and The Music Man, for example, he is effortless in his performance.

But then about a year ago? Arkady Spivak, the smart Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, offered Michael Torontow a chance to direct, outside his comfort zone. Torontow grabbed at the chance. The result was a bracing production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The production was then remounted in a local Barrie conservation area—literally in the woods—to great success. It will be done again, this time in the Winter Garden Theatre, in Toronto, Oct. 28-30. Don’t miss it.

Now Torontow has given himself another challenge: a one-person show, singing songs that mean something to him, telling us his story, and starring down his demons.

Torontow is a wonderfully engaging communicator/performer/presence. He sings with his heart: some Sondheim; some classical opera (yes, he studied classical music), something from Once, songs that mean a lot to him. He acknowledges his mistakes (very few in the show) as the result of not being on a stage in 19 months.

He talks about the hard part of acting and even invites the audience to participate with their own suggestions. He does have some interesting words to share on audience participation. He said that in one show he was supposed to invite someone onto the stage with him for a little dance. The director said that under no circumstances does he accept “No” for an answer because that gives permission for the rest of the audience to say no. (Really? And that’s a bad thing? More on audience participation for another post.) Torontow tells a bittersweet story on the ills of the dastardly audience participation. Torontow was wonderful in a play called Every Brilliant Thing that depended heavily on audience participation but in that case audience members could politely decline, and only a few did (if any) because of the nature of the show.

In other words, Michael Torontow presented a personal, lively, charming show of what it means to be an actor in the theatre. He also opened up about demons that he was battling and how he stared those down too.

He was ably accompanied by Mark Camilleri on the piano. But again, a quibble, the piano is amplified as is Michael Torontow. At times the piano was drowning out Torontow. Why does the piano have to be amplified at all? Questions. Questions.

There is no doubt that Torontow [After Dark] is well worth your time.

Talk Is Free Theatre presents:

Plays until Sept. 25.

Running time:  one hour.

www.tift.ca

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Streaming until May on the 4th Line Theatre YouTube Channel:

4th Line Theatre Company in Millbrook, Ont. (south of Peterborough) launched its 2021 programming with its first ever Digital Festival of Light and Dark. The Festival enables the community to engage with 13 regional artists’ video creations, in the safety of their own homes through 4th Line’s digital video gallery. There are actually 12 videos but 13 artists created them.

Managing Artistic Director Kim Blackwell explains, “We wanted to support local artists.  That was the genesis for the idea which ultimately became The Digital Festival of Light and Dark.

I am excited to showcase the work of so many talented local artists from almost every conceivable discipline. These short, digital works will be a chance for 4th Line audiences to see the depth and breadth of regional artists and their creative worlds.” 

The projects encompass a myriad of artistic styles from dance to poetry to photography to puppetry and several more styles.  The topics and issues explored include: the new silent nightlife in downtown Peterborough in lockdown; an exploration of physical vulnerability in the pandemic; and the story of a young girl trapped alone in a Welsh mine, to name only three. “

After viewing all the videos, I can say with conviction that the array of talent in and around Peterborough is astonishing. In these short videos, ranging from about two minutes to 10 minutes, you get a sweep of imagination covering the light and dark of the pandemic, a person’s life, a city at night, quiet, dark and shining, a sad moment in a song, the history of the women’s movement done in video, shadows and a jumble of voices that was effective, dance pieces that are jubilant, thoughtful and hopeful and a haunting memory created by puppets.

There is a cross-section of ages: There is that young girl trapped in the Welsh mine in a piece called Nerys in the Dark by Kelsey Powell, calmly telling of the place and the life of the village. They sent children down into the mines “because they were small and could fit into cracks.”  

Then in Over and Under: Two Recitals by P.J. Thomas is created by two men of a certain age. This quote from the website give a sense of the whimsy and longing of the poems: “These poems refer to the sun and moon around the horizon and equinoxes. Emphasizing light and dark, Cruella DeVille and the Man-In-Black.” Written by PJ Thomas. “Warmth” is performed by David Bateman and “Mayfly is performed by Ian McLachlan. The poems illuminate whimsy, longing, and yearning.

Shrouded by Jennifer Elchuk is a terrific piece with a woman suspended above the stage wrapped in swaths of silk as she does a ballet of sorts of being enveloped in darkness, the loneliness of the pandemic—your imagination can go wild.  The idea of light and dark is realized in the lighting and in the enveloping of the body in the silks. It’s beautifully accomplished.

Night Shift by Tristan Pierce is wonderful moody film capturing ‘the city’ (Peterborough?) at night, shiny, dark, sparkly, light and shadowy, with its own sounds, quiet and atmosphere.

Benj Rowland sings his own composition, Accident, accompanies himself on guitar and provides his own percussive background. It’s a mournful song with a captivating melody. I just wished I was able to clearly hear all the lyrics.

Naomi Duvall has created and performs Dark Eyes as a puppet show in which a woman remembers her youth and another pandemic which frightened her. She recalls night creatures, dark eyes looking at her, shadows, strange and beautiful creatures. Interesting, evocative piece.

I thought The Many Shades Between Light and Dark by Stefan Hannigan was promising, if a bit too complex for the form of ‘the interview.’ “The Canary in the Cage” is the first episode in 13 episodes or films about how performers are coping with the pandemic. In this first episode performer Marsala Lukianchuk talks about the trials, tribulations and skills she’s learned while dealing with isolation etc.

But then Hannigan has a dated tickertape line noting the various revelations of the pandemic, going across the bottom of the screen at the same time as we are listening to Marisala Lukianchuk speak. At other times he also inserts graphs with statistics. I know this is deliberate since focusing is difficult during the past year. I just didn’t think it was helpful to the piece as a whole, and it certainly upstaged the performer being interviewed. But as I said, it was a promising effort.

It’s Political by Laura Thompson is a compact, effective piece about the creation and development of the women’s movement, in shadow, light, silhouette figures to a background of news sound bites.

18 Flames Per Second by Josh Fewings is a film about flames in a fireplace that is a wonderfully witty, impish piece that plays tricks on the eye. At times it looks like that title is 18 Frames per Second, but then you have to review? rethink? what you are looking at. Clever, inventive, makes you smile.

Shadows and the Human Heart is choreographed by Frank Flynn and performed by Madison Sheward. It’s a beautiful ballet piece that evokes moody emotions but ultimately hopefulness. It lifts the spirit it’s so full of artistry.

How To Make Shadows by Madison Costello is an eye-popping satiric piece about creation. A ‘computer-generated’ woman’s voice announces that she will be instructing three participants in how to create. She notes that instructions are precise. She says there is only one way to create (one’s eyebrows are slightly knitting here), then says something like mistakes and failure are not tolerated (more eye-brow knitting). The three participants separately create structures with wood and glue. The results all look alike. It’s a fascinating, satiric piece, complex, funny and pointed about creation.   

Perhaps my favourite piece is Before It Dies by Mike Moring. It’s a compact, evocative film that initially looks like the monotony of the pandemic, because that’s all we’re thinking about at the moment.

A woman reluctantly wakes up in the morning. A shaft of light falls across her eyes.  She makes coffee. She eats lunch on the sofa. She piles the dishes in the sink. There are other dishes from other meals. At night she has a smoke and goes to bed. The next day the process is repeated. And more dishes pile up in the sink.

Then the time line shifts from day to day, there is a disruption and you realize what is actually playing out. It’s clever, sly, inventive and I loved every single minute of it.

While I occasionally had some quibbles, on the whole the pieces are full of whimsy, cleverness, eye-popping imagination, compelling storytelling and the most wonderful talent.  Every one of these filmed performances is worth your time.

The Digital Festival of Light and Dark is on the 4th Line Theatre Company’s You Tube channel until May.

https://www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca

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Dark Matter

At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W. Written by Alec Toller and the company, based on “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. Directed by Alec Toller. Costumes by Hanna Puley. Lighting by Melissa Joakim. Starring: Joshua Browne, Mikaela Dyke, Kat Letwin, Colin Munch.

Plays at the Storefront Theatre 955 Bloor St. W., until April 6.

“Heart of Darkness” is Joseph Conrad’s short but notable 1899 novel.  It has been translated; adapted, televised, filmed (the most notable is Apocalypse Now) and given the documentary treatment.

The latest version is called Dark Matter adapted by the actors and director of Circlesnake Productions. One can see the appeal of Conrad’s novel.  The story is rich in themes of the powerful vs. the weak; the rich vs. the poor; colonialism vs. slavery; the effects of isolation. At its centre is a long and arduous journey down the Congo, taken by a steamboat captain and ivory transporter named Marlow, into unknown territory to find a mysterious man named Kurtz.

In the various adaptations the location has changed from the Congo to Viet Nam (for Apocalypse Now). But Dark Matter just might be the most ‘out there’ adaptation. This version takes place in outer space. Marlow is now a woman captain of a space ship sent into space to find Kurtz, a rogue member of the company that both Marlow and Kurtz work for. Kurtz has settled in a far reaching area and been there, literally in isolation for 10 years. There are rumours that Kurtz is mad; or brutalizing the people there with him. Marlow has to either bring him back or terminate him. She is accompanied by her ‘companion’ Cal, a robot in female form whom Marlow considers her best friend. And also on the voyage is Burke, a company employee we are told is there to check up on Marlow.

The same themes are here as in the original and certainly the aspect of space travel adds a kind fantasy aspect to the voyage. But I found the physical production of creating the idea of space travel so complex in its choreography and direction, that it overwhelmed the production. While there are only two props, two folding bridge chairs, the whole physical layout of the space ship is created in actors miming pressing buttons, separating doors, walking through the doors, turning to close the doors, walking down corridors, turning left, then right, then skipping over three or more steps at a certain point, the negotiating other parts of the spaceship. And then there was the complex miming of suiting up for going outside the ship. And on and on. Dark Matter should be either a film or a television show. As I said Alec Toller’s ‘choreography-direction’ is intricate but ultimately it overpowers the dialogue.

It’s interesting that in this adaptation it’s not too big of a deal for a woman to be a captain of a space-ship, so bravo for that. As Marlow, Kat Letwin is earnest, controlled in her emotions in very emotional situations, quick thinking, and matter of fact when solving problems. As Burke, Colin Munch tends to swallow words when he speaks so quickly. I  like the mystery of why he is on this voyage but the revelations of the truth seems a bit tenuous. Mikaela Dyke as Cal is properly monotoned, cold-smiling and robot-humanlike. The problem is that Ms Dyke also plays other characters who are not robots and her delivery is flat without variation, which is a bit of a concern. As the manipulative, powerful Kurtz Joshua Browne certainly looks striking, with his bald head and piercing stare. His quirky speech, esoteric in its musings, poetic at times, opaque at times. Is this the speech of a person who has gone mad? And interesting thought. I wonder if it would be a better script if only one person, and a writer at that, actually wrote it, rather than a collaborative effort of the company.

Hanna Puley’s costumes of black t-shirts, black combat pants and boots, with occasional parts of the gear that illuminate, is effective in creating that functional world always on the verge of combat.

I can certainly appreciate doing theatre on a shoestring, but the fact that there was no program on the second night of the run, was maddening.

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The following reviews were broadcast Friday, May 10, 2013, on CIUT Friday Morning, 89.5 fm: DIALOGUES des CARMÉLITES at the Four Seasons Centre until May 25, and STOPHEART at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until May 26

(PHIL)

1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What do you have for us today?

(LYNN)

I have two very different pieces to review.

The first is DIALOGUES des CARMÉLITES (Dialogues of the Carmelites) an opera by Francis Poulenc set in France during the French revolution, that didn’t end too well for a quiet group of Carmelite nuns.The Canadian Opera Company produces it at the Four Seasons Centre.

 And the other is STOPHEART, a new play by Amy Lee Lavoie about five misfits in a small town trying to get by with varying results. It plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace.

(PHIL)

2) Let’s start with the Opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites. Why the opera?

(LYNN)

I’m not reviewing it as an opera because I’m certainly not comfortable or as knowledgeable as I think one must be to talk about the music, singing and orchestra. But it is a gripping, emotionally taut piece of theatre as well, and on that level that’s what I’m reviewing.

(PHIL)

3) What’s the story?

(LYNN)

Paris, the time of the French Revolution and no one of noble birth is safe. Mobs roam the streets challenging anyone who looks aristocratic.

Blanche de la Force, is the daughter of the Marquis, noble birth, but timid. The world scares her. A servant’s shadow on the wall throws her into a screaming panic. She decides to become a Carmelite nun to escape the world she finds so horrible. Even then her strength is tested and often she shrinks from any kind of emotional situation.

Finally the French Revolution knocks on the Carmelite convent door The Revolutionary Government tells them the convent must be disbanded and the nuns not carry on any religious rituals. The nuns agree to become martyrs. Again Blanche runs away unable to cope.

The nuns are sentenced to death by guillotine. As they go to their death one by one, Blanche appears at the end, ready to die with her sisters in one of the most emotionally charged, compelling scenes anywhere.

(PHIL)

4) Did the production serve the opera well?

(LYNN)

The production is stunning thanks to director Robert Carson.He is a director who has supreme respect for the piece. He never gets in the way with clever invention that pulls focus from the work. We’ve all see cowboy directors like that. Instead his spare, exquisite production serves the piece at every turn. The detail is breathtaking.

The stage of the Four Seasons Centre can seem vast, especially when only three or four characters are in a scene.But Carson and his gifted designers, Michael Levine for the set, Falk Bauer on costumes and the original lighting by Jean Kalman, have created this large yet confined world. Light pinpoints singers so you are never in doubt of who is singing or where they are.

With a snap of light the whole back of the stage is full of the humanity of Paris…it looks like about 100 people up there.

They slowly travel across the stage leaving in their wake, the detritus of revolution, broken furniture, tables, junk etc. And when the scene is finished, they travel across again, quietly, magically clearing the stage of the stuff. The last scene when the nuns walk to their deaths, is unexpected in the way it’s staged but absolutely thrilling theatrically and emotionally.

The music is glorious.To me, the singing is glorious.

Isabel Bayrakdarian sings the part of Blanche—timid, frightened by everything, but formidable at the end. Judith Forst sings the part of the Mother Superior, a roller coaster of emotion and it’s wonderful. Adrianne Pieczonka sings the role of the Second Prioress, full of dignity, grace and resolve. They are Canadian opera stars. And they are terrific.

(PHIL)

5) So I guess you liked it? And how about Stopheart?

(LYNN)

And now for something completely different—Stopheart

It’s written by a young Canadian playwright named Amy Lee Lavoie. She has an off-kilter sensibility—funny but she looks at the dark side of things.

 The first play I saw of hers was Rabbit, Rabbit. A few years ago at Summerworks. It was about a troubled pedophile and a young prostitute.The pedophile earned his living as a clown at kids’ parties. Lavoie knows how to pin us to the wall and make us squirm.

I love that dual world—dark and funny. And she always creates the flawed humanity of her characters.I love the oddness of her work, the imagination, the fact that it usually leaves me breathless because of the fearlessness of the work. Stopheart shows us that certainly.

(PHIL)

6) What’s the story?

(LYNN)

We are in South Porcupine, Ontario. Lavoie has created five mis-fits who are connected in a way. Troubled, odd, trying to fit in.

Elian is a thoughtful, articulate young man who is conflicted. His best friend July is a tough, fast-mouthed young woman who loves him and is always chiding him by asking if he’s gay yet. This upsets Elian but she does know the truth before he does.

There are Elian’s parents; Goldie who is fragile with physical and mental problems, and Cricket, his unemployed father. To prepare themselves for Goldie’s eventual death, Cricket builds and decorates her coffin. She sleeps in it to get the feel for it.We get the picture.

Bear is July’s brother who has just been released from jail. When Elian sees him he finds the focus of his affection.

Lavoie has created quirky characters with an edge. Often her writing is poetic, elegant and skewered.

(PHIL)

7) Does the production serve the play?

(LYNN)

While I don’t think the play comes completely together- — more uncertainty regarding the characters could be better created in Act I in order to develop them in Act II–I think the production does serve the play.

Ron Jenkins is a gifted director who brings out the quirkiness. He has a sense of whimsy and knows the dark world too. There is a funeral at the end that is inventive, tender and evocative.

And Jenkins gets wonderful performances from this strong cast. As Elian, Amitai Marmorstein is an articulate, intellectual odd-ball, consumed with uncertainty about his life and place in that world.

 As July, Vivien Endicott-Douglas is a fireball of energy and anger. Insults and ribbing pour out of her like a fire hydrant let loose.

 As Goldie, Elizabeth Saunders shows us her mental confusion; her joy at what her husband has made for her; her fragile mind, and also her strength of character. She is fierce in her love. It’s a wonderful performance from a terrific actress whose work of which we don’t see enough.

 As Cricket her husband and Elian’s father, Martin Julien is quirky, jaunty, and grief stricken when he realizes how he hurt Elian’s feelings when the kid came to him for solace.

And as Bear Garret C. Smith is both mysterious and dangerous as the volatile brother of July.

 As I said, I’m not sure the play comes completely together, but I have a lot of time for Amy Lee Lavoie.I think she has interesting things to say, and I’m always eager to hear them. 

(PHIL)

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our Theatre Critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

 Dialogues of the Carmelites plays at the Four Seasons Centre in French with surtitles,  until May 25,

 Stopheart plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until May 26

 

 

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The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, January 18, 2013 CIUT FRIDAY MORING, on 89.5 FM: ROBIN HOOD, THE LEGENDARY MUSICAL COMEDY at Hart House Theatre until January 26, and WAIT UNTIL DARK at the Storefront Theatre 955 Bloor St. W. until January 26.

(ROSE)
1) Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn, what are you going to talk about today?

(LYNN)
Two show. First Robin Hood, The Legendary Musical Comedy at our own Hart House.

Then for something completely different the wet-your-pants thriller, Wait Until Dark produced by Red One Theatre collective at their new venue called the Storefront Theatre at 955 Bloor St. W.

(ROSE)
2) I’m really interested in this one because last week we interviewed Jesse MacLean who directed it and Daniel James who plays Robin Hood.

(LYNN)
I know and I didn’t want to be anywhere near to hear it because I think it’s compromising to do an interview of the people you will then review. A bit of a conflict there…. So I hid in a dark corner of the third floor not listening while you did the interview.

(ROSE)
3) OK The creators of this musical skewer the story don’t they?

(LYNN)
They do sort of. A dashing young man named Robin of Locksley has come home after years of fighting in the crusades with King Richard the Lionheart. Everybody is surprised to see him—they thought he was dead. They say so, repeatedly.

His house has been taken over by Prince John, the scummy brother of King Richard. Robin goes off into the woods to escape the dastardly Prince John and meets a band of merry men led by Will Scarlett, who is a woman.

Will Scarlett and the men rob the rich and keep the money. But along the way that is changed to giving the money to the poor. And of course this being the time of chivalry, Robin takes the leadership of the merry men, from Will, who’s miffed, but also sweet on Robin, who only has eyes for Maid Marion, who is attached to Prince John. And on and on, and they sing about it, endlessly.

(ROSE)
4) Gives us a bit of background on this show. It started in Halifax last summer right?

(LYNN)
It was created in 2005 by a collective of artists of the acting company of Shakespeare by the Sea in Halifax.

One of the composers was Jeremy Hutton, now the Artistic Director of Hart House Theatre. In fact Jeremy played Robin Hood in that production. They worked on it again, more people joined the collective to refine it and the result is the new version at Hart House now until Jan. 26.

So the music and lyrics are by Kieren MacMillan, and Jeremy Hutton. The book is by William Foley, Jeremy Hutton, Jesse MacLean, Kevin MacPherson and Kate Smith.

(ROSE)
5) Do you think creating by committee or collective is a good idea?

(LYNN)
I get the sense that this was a very democratic situation.
If one of them thought he/she had a great idea, or joke, or pun, or plot twist or song, they just kept it in. But in the real world of creating musical theatre there has to be some rigor in deciding what to cut and in this case there is scant rigor and lots and lots of flab.

While the dialogue is very funny and the songs are very clever, I think the show is a bloated two hours and 45 minutes long. Cut 45 minutes at least. The collective has to examine why a song is there.

In a musical a song either conveys character or progresses the plot. In Robin Hood, the Legendary Musical Comedy, too many songs just reiterate what is said in dialogue.

For example, Prince John says he’s really evil. Then he and his equally evil partner, the Sheriff of Nottingham and their goons sing about how evil they are in many and various ways. We get the point.

Their goons also have a song “Isn’t It Great” (To Be A Goon)… This is called overkill. I counted four songs that could be cut in Act I alone.

It’s suffused with cleverness, often cleverness for its own sake. Very quickly this wears thin and it becomes boring.

(ROSE)
6) Is the production at least lively?

(LYNN)
Very lively. The cast is terrific lead by the dashing Daniel James as Robin Hood. Robin knows he’s good looking. He poses, slicks back his hair, moves gracefully. Sings well.

As the dastardly Prince John, Kevin MacPherson is very focused and consistent in his evil ways. He’s also endlessly inventive with his cape and other props.

As Maid Marian, Jennifer Morris is an ice queen of reserve and lustiness at the same time. She knows how to twist men around her digits. And as Will Scarlett, Kelly McCormack is diminutive, spunky, and really funny.

Everyone sings well and often. It’s directed with endless cleverness by Jesse MacLean. I think he has the potential to be charming and funny and clever too, with a lot of judicious pruning.

I would recommend it to a young, university crowd. The show feels like a frat house entertainment.

(ROSE)
7) And now Wait Until Dark. Why do you call it the-wet- your-pants-thriller?

(LYNN)
Because it’s full of danger, evil characters, and moments of such darkness and fright that, well, you might, do damage to the furniture you’re sitting on. Wait Until Dark was written by Fredrick Knott and is produced by the wonderful, edgy Red One Theatre Collective.

It involves a little doll. A photographer named Sam is coming back to New York from Canada. He chats up a woman who asks him to take the doll back to New York for her—it’s a present for her niece. He does that, but takes the doll to his office.

He tells his wife Suzy about the doll but things get murky when he’s supposed to pass the doll on. What Sam and Suzy don’t know is that the doll is full of heroin. To add a wrinkle Suzy is also blind.

Along the way the woman who gave Sam the doll is killed by an associate-psychopath named Roat because he didn’t trust her.

What follows is a maddeningly convoluted storyline by playwright Fredrick Knott of Roat and his thugs trying to terrify Suzy and also get her to give them the doll. Since she’s blind, that adds to the suspense. She swears she doesn’t know where it is, but she knows these guys are no good. Suzy is quite fearless in her own way.

(ROSE)
8) How’s the production?

(LYNN)
It think Red One Theatre Collective have done a splendid job.They are working in a new pace that’s called The Storefront Theatre, because it’s a converted store front on Bloor West. It’s very make-shift, but that’s the charm. It’s theatre on the cheap but never sloppy.

The set for example is re-used, re-purposes and re-worked props, pieces and furniture and it beautifully creates the home of Sam who is sighted and Suzy who is not.

It’s directed by first time director, Benjamin Blais, who’s also a wonderful actor. He has a flare for directing, for creating, maintaining and building suspense. His staging is efficient and fluid and I tell you when the lights go out, it’s a pitch dark that I have rarely seen.

As Suzy, Dayle McLeod creates a trusting soul who is quick witted. And she is totally convincing as a blind woman. As Roat the smooth thug who has no fear of killing someone who crosses him, Tyrone Savage is all honey tones, easy banter with a sense of whimsy to his danger. He’s named his knife. Sweet. And dangerous.

And as Gloria, Claire Armstrong plays a young girl who is developmentally challenged. It’s a detailed, fine performance. She wears big glasses that she always adjusts. Gloria is awkward, playful, secretive but capable.

I just love the chutzpah of Red One Theatre Collective. They have no press people and depend on word of mouth. Ok, this mouth is sending you the word.

Go and see Wait Until Dark now before it’s too late.

(ROSE)
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

Robin Hood, The Legendary Musical Comedy plays at Hart House Theatre until January 26.

Wait Until Dark plays at the Storefront Theatre at 955 Bloor St. W. until January 26.

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Review: MONSTER

by Lynn on November 24, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre, Studio, Toronto, until Dec. 10, 2023.

www.factorytheatre.ca

Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Set, props and lighting by Trevor Schwellnus

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Wardrobe stylist, Allie Marshall

Cast: Karl Ang

Haunting, chilling, beautifully directed and a performance by Karl Ang that is astonishing.

The Story. The simple outline from the Factory Theatre website: “Monster peels back the psychological layers of 16 different characters to reveal the dark heart of individual experience. With a masterful blend of suspense, humor, and raw emotion, Monster invites you to confront your fears and embrace the complexities that make us human.” There are characters ground down by life, circumstance, parental cruelty and an overwhelming need for revenge. One scene is particularly brutal.

The Production. The production starts in darkness. An angry voice tells someone to shut up (adding an insulting epithet) as the movie is about to begin. Is he a monster? Over the course of the 75 minutes of the play we will meet an array of people who angry, insulting, condescending, abusive and behave badly in various ways. Does that make them monsters?

Trevor Schwellnus has designed a simple set of a bare stage with a bank of eight lights at the back of the stage. The lights go up and illuminate Karl Ang, a young man in a sweater and pants. He is personable, charming, curious and at this point, certainly not the angry man in the dark. Or is he?

Over the course of the play Ang will play all the characters, both men and women. With a subtle movement of one finger around the ear he becomes a sweet woman putting her hair around her ear to keep it off her face. The voice is light and lilting. He changes from a supportive partner to her irritated boyfriend who just wants to be left alone. Then the tone is sharp, the voice is deep and commanding. It’s an effort for the character to contain his irritation for this woman and this time. Names of the various characters wiz through the air: Al, Dave, Janine, Pam, “Boil Boy,” and much more.

Karl Ang gives an astonishing performance. There is nuance, subtlety, variation in body language, voice, expression and vigor.  He shifts from one character to another with ease and a clear sense of who each character is. It all seems effortless. Each character is full bodied.

Soheil Parsa directs Monster with exquisite invention, control, imagination and a ramped pace that keeps one breathless. He creates scenes that could be in the movies, watching horror, with lighting capturing the nuances in the performance. At times Trevor Schwellnus’ lighting makes Karl Ang look forbidding, he is surrounded by such shadows and bright light. You are convinced that here is a monster. In other softer light, Ang’s features are pleasant, calming, inviting. Between this gifted actor and his equally gifted director, we are kept unbalanced as to whom we will meet next. At one point the scope of the play expands out away from the 16 characters we will meet, to encompass an angry world. This is established by Thomas Ryder Payne’s chilling soundscape of bombs dropping somewhere not getting louder and closer, but present. In our fractured world, this adds another example of a “monster.”

Playwright Daniel MacIvor weaves compelling, intricate stories of the various characters and the experiences they endure. Sometimes the result is anger, sometimes revenge. Each story is carefully crafted with characters fully detailed and created. There are the women who love their angry partners, who stay the course, who calm them down and convince them that a life together is better than apart.

It’s like MacIvor is creating an intricate spider web and the audience is mesmerized watching as each delicate strand is created joining the various other strands. In a way the audience is drawn into the web until we aren’t sure where we are or to whose story we are listening. This isn’t a fault of the writing. It’s one of its many strengths—to keep the audience unsettled until the very end. And when we hear the conclusion of the final story, in a way a beginning, the result is jaw dropping.

Comment. Monster is a play written by a playwright at the top of his game, directed by a masterful director, guiding his equally gifted actor. Well worth a visit for people serious about theatre.

Factory Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 22, 1923.

Closes: Dec. 10, 2023.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

www.factorytheatre.ca

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At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song and Dance Man

Written by Genevieve Adam

Directed by Emma Ferrante

Choreography by Adam Martino

Designed by Adam Martino

Cast: Ashley Harju

Alayna Kellet

Jacqueline Dos Santos

Luke Opdahl

Maddison Hayes-Crook

Matthew Eldracher

Micah Enzlin

Sam Black

Stéphanie Visconti

Robbie Fenton

I know everyone on this show worked hard and their intentions were honourable, but I am mystified as to what this show is. It’s billed as “Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song and Dance Man, but you had to look deep into the program to find that it’s the life of American dancer and film star Gene Kelly that was the subject.

Genevieve Adam is a wonderful writer as can be seen with two of her previous works: Dark Heart and Deceitful Above All Things. She has a sense of language, imagery, time and place and a particular way of creating characters. With such good work I was mystified as to what happened with Anatomy of a Dancer. This suggests something substantial. Alas the book of this very skimpy show is not even a sketch. We are given the barest of details about his life: born in Pittsburgh, went to New York to try his luck and came back to Pittsburgh and taught dance there. Then details get weird. It seems that out of no where he got a telegram from David O Selznick in Hollywood to come out there and work in the movies.

A quick search of Google (yes you have to do that when the script tells you so little that makes sense) indicated there were several other jobs before that telegram. His marriages are given short shrift and then so are the shows he choreographed.

For some reason there are two actor-dancers who play Gene Kelly here. Why, I don’t know. Are they alter-egos of each other? There is no explanation. The cast is not identified by the characters they play which is soooooo unhelpful. Many of the actors playing principle roles are microphoned which is unfortunate because the sound is lousy and too loud. Why does one need to be amplified in such a small theatre any way—to compete with the loud recorded music? Then lower that sound. One actress had one line to speak and was not amplified and we could hear her loud and clear. Get rid of all the mics and fill the room with your voices—isn’t that why one is trained?

It takes huge confidence for such young performers to want to depict the life and times of Gene Kelly who made dancing and singing seem effortless.

All in all, not a happy time in the theatre.

Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song and Dance Man continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 Lauren & Amanda Do It

Personable Lauren Cauchy and Amanda Logan present a comfortable 30 minute show about sex. No embarrassment, no wink-wink-nudge-nudge. Just smart, funny, thoughtful comments about sex. They spin a large wheel with various topics on sex: Sexual health, masturbation, Sexual transmitted diseases, etc. Where ever the wheel stops is the topic they discuss. For our purposes they talked about Sexual Health, use of condoms in a long-term relationship, diva cups etc. They were ably joined by Alli Harris who provided the musical accompaniment as well as insights into her sexual activity with her partner and their special guest Jennifer Walls, musical theatre performer extraordinaire. The show is good natured, irreverent and yet serious.

It continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

A Bear Awake in Winter

Written and directed by Ali Joy Richardson

Lighting by Steph Raposo

Cast: Hershel Blatt

Mchaela Di Cesare

Andrew Di Rosa

Bria McLaughlin

Danny Pagett

Natasha Ramondino

Andy Trithardt

Woooow!!! Ali Joy Richardson has written a stunning, complex, perceptive play for our times. It leaves you breathless at the sheer accomplishment of telling this difficult story with such sensitivity and balance.

We are in Halifax, Nova Scotia in a high school music class. Mr. Hill (the wonderful Andy Trithardt) is the new music teacher. He’s just moved there from Toronto with his husband. The students know each other already. Matt (Andrew Di Rosa) plays the trombone and has a certain attitude because he fancies he’s the best musician in the class. Diminutive, impish Bari (Bria McLaughlin) plays a large saxophone. A character known as ‘trumpet’ (Danny Pagett)  is the goof of the group and he plays the trumpet (duh). “Keys” (Hershel Blatt)  is a wise, laid-back young man who plays the keyboard. A forthright young woman plays percussion (Natasha Ramondino) and is listed in the characters as ‘Percussion.” Theresa (Michaela Di Cesare) is new to the school and arrives late. She plays the flute.

It’s obvious some of these young people have issues they are dealing with and some of the others either know about the issues or have caused them. Theresa works at a fast food place with Bari and they are friends. Theresa had something happen to her at her previous school and she was forced to transfer, something she keeps to herself, but it certainly had its effect on her. Theresa is guarded and when Matt shows interest she is standoffish which irritates him. Matters build from there.

Ali Joy Richardson also directs her script and she brings out the best in her cast. The image of Theresa facing Matt speaks volumes. Michaela Di Cesare is a scrappy, diminutive Theresa and Andrew Di Rosa as Matt towers over her. The ‘visuals’ of their scenes together suggest an overpowering power dynamic. How Richardson directs the scene suggests something else.

Truths are told and characters who have locked in their angst find the ability to face their demons and confront the bullies who tormented them. It doesn’t end neatly, but it ends beautifully.

If I have a quibble it’s that there are two speeches from the adults’ point of view with their own troubles that I think are unnecessary for the purposes of the play. But as I said, it’s a quibble. Ali Joy Richardson’s play and her direction blew me away.

A Bear Awake in Winter continues until Jan. 20.

www.fringetoronto.com

 

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