Search: deceitful above all things

Short Reviews: Peace River Country and Deceitful Above All Things

Peace River Country

At the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Maria Milisavijevic
Directed by Richard Rose
Set and costumes and video design by Curtis Wehrfritz
Sound by John Gzowski
Lighting by Jason Hand
Cast: Layne Coleman
Janet Laine Green
Sarah Sherman
Benjamin Sutherland

From the press release: “Inspired by the real-life story of Reverend Wiebo Ludwig and his decades-long battle with the Alberta oil and gas industry, Peace River Country follows the lives of a close-knit traditional family as their land, health, and way of life become increasingly threatened by mega-corporations and big government. How does a traditional Christian family living off the land in rural Alberta gain a national reputation as violent eco-terrorists? This fictional account of real-life events is a timely look at the ties of love and loyalty that bind a community.

The political and environmental impact of Canada’s energy industry, especially in Alberta, has been a central tenet of our national discourse for many years. Peace River Country offers an intimate glimpse into the experience of one close-knit religious community during the booming growth of Alberta’s oil industry, and the extremes one man went to keep his family’s way of life in tact.”

Sounds fascinating and I’d love to see that, but Maria Milisavijevic’s play is so lacking in necessary information it’s difficult to make sense of it all. The result is confusing if not frustrating. Thank heaven for Google from which I find: Reverend Ludwig created a farming community with his family and others in rural Alberta. Gas and oil companies created sour wells close to the community. Ludwig alleged that the wells leaked into the land and water contaminating both. He began protesting to the government from the early 1990s until his death in 2012 to no avail.

From the play we get the sense that it’s only the family of four who is involved. There is no community involvement which would have been helpful in establishing true tension. As it is the family squabbles about what to do. I think that’s limiting.

Milisavijevic’s creation of the family’s religious devotion and their adherence to the Bible as a guide adds an interesting touch.

In the play Ludwig is only known as Dad and Dad feels that his grandchild is stillborn because of the contaminated water. We don’t get a clear sense that an autopsy was requested to make sure. Dad’s herd of cattle dies, again, it’s assumed the contaminated grass and water are at fault, yet no vet is called to test the dead animals as to the reason. Later the family raises sheep for wool. If the land and water is contaminated, how is that possible? The family says it can’t drink the water yet again no tests are done to see if their concerns are valid.

Dad turns to violence to be heard by the outside world. Yet while the authorities and the Globe and Mail come to cover the violence, there is no hint that they investigates further to see if Ludwig had a case. Can this be right?

Curtis Wehrfritz’s spare set establishes the vegetation of the farm. The interior scenes are around a kitchen table. Simple and effective.

Layne Coleman is a stalwart Dad. He is proud, committed to his family and desperate to be heard. In contrast Janet Laine Green as Mom is grace and tenderness itself. She is dutiful and supportive of her husband and children. The production shifts back and forth in time sometimes focusing on Dad and Mom’s two young children Jemima (Sarah Sherman) and Joe (Benjamin Sutherland), or later when they are grown. Sometimes Sutherland plays the husband of the adult Jemima. With the subtlest of body language Sherman and Sutherland clearly establish who and what they are (young, mature, married, etc.) Director Richard Rose keeps a firm hand on the shifting times and establishing the urgency of the situation.

Milisavijevic’s previous play Abyss was much more successful in presenting its case and mystery and the result was gripping. Peace River Country however, is a disappointment.

Tarragon Theatre presents.

First performance: Feb. 7, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 19, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

Deceitful Above All Things

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Genevieve Adam
Directed by Tanya Rintoul
Set by Nancy Anne Perrin
Costumes by Adriana Bogaard
Sound by Deanna Choi
Cast: Genevieve Adam
Imogen Grace
Madeleine Donohue
John Fitzgerald Jay
Joelle Peters
Brian Bisson
Garret C. Smith

This is a stylish remount of Genevieve Adam’s intriguing play that was first produced at Summerworks in 2015. I liked it then and like it now.

Adam writes of the young women who were sent by France to Quebec between 1663 and 1673 to help populate the land—i.e, marry and have children. Two such women were Anne Bilodeau and Marguerite Perron who met on the ship coming over from France. Anne was in love with a local Jesuit priest and unbeknownst to him became pregnant with his baby. Anne had to marry quickly and did, to a local farmer. Marguerite worked as Anne’s housekeeper. Marguerite meets Toussaint Langlois, a courier de bois. She should have been wary of him but Marguerite is fearless. She seduces Langlois as much as he seduces her.

Genevieve Adam writes of a wild, dangerous time in our history. The women had to be wily to survive. The men had to be brave. Adam nicely portrays the various social stigmas and attitudes towards indigenous people, single women, the church, the French and anything that was ‘other’. Her dialogue captures the times and yet is contemporary in attitudes that prevail today.

Tanya Rintoul directs with a sure hand. The sensuality between Marguerite and Langlois is both raw and compelling. Nancy Anne Perrin’s set is simple—two moveable benches. The floor is stained to suggest a splash of blood or the vibrant colours of the country.

Genevieve Adam plays Anna Bilodeau with an arrogance and confident flippancy. Imogen Grace is just as confident as Marguerite Perron, but in a quieter way. The whole cast is impressive.

Favour The Brave Collective and Storefront Arts Initiative present:

Opened: Feb. 16, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 21, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 80 minutes.


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.

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.

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.

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)

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.


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.

 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.


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.



Summerworks continues

Aperture—The Artist Mentoring Young ( Amy) Project

At Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto, Ont.

Co-directed by Sarah Kitz and Mumbi Tindyebwa
Created and performed by:
Clover Boxtop
Bessie Cheng
Ashley Duncan
Aiden Holden-Jones
Julia Hunter
Whitney Kyera
Caillie Presniak
Sherman Tsang

An intriguing initiative for the young women participants of the Amy Projecy in which they explore themes of gender, imagination, perceptions, sense of self, through music, dance, poetry.

Not to be ‘reviewed’ because the young women are feeling their way through via theatre.

Like There’s No Tomorrow

At Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Architect Theatre
Directed by Anita Rochon
Performed by Georgina Beaty
Paula-Jean Prudat
Johnathan Seinen

This is typical gripping Architect Theatre fare. It’s docudrama investigating questions and situations that affect all of us. In 2012 and 2013 the company travelled to Northern BC to interview people who lived on the route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. There was a study done by the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel to suggest that due diligence was done. Only one question was asked: “Do you think that Canadians will be better off with the Pipeline than without? “ It doesn’t leave much room for other questions such as how will the environment, air, land, water, fish, wild-life, people be affected? What about possible disasters? What will happen then?

While the review panel did not bother themselves with such questions, Architect Theatre did when it talked to many people along the route. The main speaker is a First Nations woman who talked to the group for few hours. Her wisdom forms the basis of the piece.

The three performers, pose questions, provide answers and facts via over head screen projections.

We are told that the review panel interviewed more than 1000 people on the issue yet we are not given an idea of that group how many thought the pipeline would be good. It’s not the first time big business ignored the will of the people and did what they wanted to do for greedy-guts reasons.

Georgina Beaty, Paula-Jean Prudat and Jonathan Seinen provide thoughtful comments in calm, cool performances thus underlining the dramatic implications of the work. Anger and rage only stops people from listening. These three get the audience to listen intently.

The piece needs to be fleshed out—it seemed to stop rather than conclude. And while we are mainly listening to the recorded voice of the first nations woman, and the three performers do not do much that is dramatic, what the piece says is so important. Theatre as the bringer of the truth about bad news. Now to flesh it out; make is seem more a play and less a workshop, and tighten what’s there.

The Marquise of O—(a tabloid story for hypocritical times)

At the Factory Theatre Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Based on a short story by Heinrich von Kleist
Adapted and directed by Lauren Gillis and Ted Weizel.
Starring: Kaleb Alexander
Rong Fu
Tyler Hagemann
Richard Partington
G. Kyle Shields
Eve Wylden

A marquise who is a widow finds herself pregnant and she has no idea how that happened. She knows how it’s done—she has children from her first marriage—but not how this particular pregnancy happened. There was that recent time when it looked like she would be attached by a bunch of fighting Russians but a dashing Russian Count saved her. She fainted from all the excitement and when she came to he was gone. Several months later she finds herself pregnant. She puts an ad in the paper indicating her mysterious plight and if the father would come forward she’d like to marry him.

While ‘rape’ is not actually mentioned, and while the Count does come forward and says he loves the Marquise, matters do not run smoothly.

Heinrich von Kleist wrote this novella in the 1800s. Lauren Gillis and Ted Weizel adapted this with large references to the philosophy of Kant and the theories on rape and cats by Schrödinger. Gillis and Weizel also direct this using video images of the cast in formal costumes and white faced makeup projected on the front of the stage as they come onto the stage and then disappear behind it back into the video. Set pieces are rotated from the world of the play to the backstage world of theatre.

It’s all so very self-absorbed in its pretensions to cleverness, resulting in an interesting story being turned into an adaptation and production that is esoteric drivel.

Deceitful Above All Things

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Genevieve Adam
Directed by Erin Brandenburg
Starring: Genevieve Adam
Imogen Grace
Sarah Wilson
John Fitzgerald Jay
Joelle Peters
Brian Bisson
Garret C. Smith

Playwright/actress Genevieve Adam had been living abroad for years in milder weather when she returned home to Canada. During an ice-storm. And a 48 hour power outage. She wondered how the first European settlers to Canada coped with the weather and hard ships. What made them leave their lands? What made them stick it out in such harsh conditions? Deceitful Above All Things was born.

Anne De Beauney comes to Quebec looking for a husband, as do many women. She bides her time but the man she falls in love with is not available. He’s the local priest. He decides to move away. She follows him. She also needs to get married quickly. She’s pregnant. She befriends another woman who falls in love with a traveling man. There is trouble with the natives in the area. Through it all the steely spine of the persevering women and brave men come to the fore. We see was sturdy stock these pioneers are.

Genevieve Adam knows how to tell a story with economy and spareness. She draws vivid characters, each quirky in their own way and totally believable. There is humour and drama, both compelling. Erin Brandenburg’s direction illustrates both the humour and the grip of the story-telling. It’s a good production and worth a ticket.

Return Home

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by the Return Home Collective
Directed by Majdi Bou Matar and Diane Roberts
Performed by: Dima Alansari,
Emilie Monnet
Carlos Rivera
Live music by Heather Majaury

Raven “is an Indiginous Mixteco who tells us that this is the story of two women. Leilah and Marie. Leilah “is an indigenous Palestinian woman born in exile” who eventually moved to Canada. She champions the millions Palestinians who were displaced from their homeland when Israel was created in 1948, She continues her lament and anger over the years as the number grew to 7 million. Marie “is an indigenous Anishinaabe woman from Quebec.”

At first the two women are at odds, challenging the other to see who has suffered the most from their exiles and yearning for their land to be returned to them. Marie longs for the unpolluted lands, air and water of her past to be restored from the destructive clutches of the people who stole the land in the first place. I guess we read “white” in this incidence. Leilah of course wants the land of the displaced 7 million to be returned to them.

Eventually through dialogue, dance, traditional drumming, chanting and song the women are joined in their individual protests. Marie offers to teach Leilah a song to aid in her cause.

Both want what they consider to be better lives wishing to return home. Leilah says she came to Canada at considerable expense seeking a better life. The edge in her voice suggests she has been disappointed. She also espouses love as a way forward. This sounds rather disingenuous since almost every line she utters is bitter and angry.

As we sit watching what seems like a diatribe at times, on land that we are told has been stolen, in a country that Leilah resents because the government sides with Israel, I note to my colleague beside me that we sure do have a lot to feel guilty about.

I saw this because Majdi Bou Matar co-directed it—he’s a wonderful director. It’s also co-directed by Diane Roberts, a respected theatre maker. This is not their best work. I wondered why too much business was directed upstage and not front and centre downstage, while important dialogue was given but was drowned out by the supporting drumming. It also seems less a play or even a performance piece and more a tirade or at least a chance to vent about perceived injustices that have consumed their lives.