I’m giving a three part lecture series on THE GROUP THEATRE: They Revolutionized Art and Changed the World, for the Miles Nadal JCC in partnership with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre. Details below:

The Group Theatre: They Revolutionized Art and Changed the World
Guest speaker: theatre critic Lynn Slotkin

In 1931 New York, a curmudgeon, a loner, and a strong-willed woman bandied together to create a radically new form of American theatre and acting style that was political, protesting, and progressive. Who were the members of The Group Theatre? What did they create and why? Why did it only last 10 years? Ponder these questions and more! Presented by the Miles Nadal JCC in partnership with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. This three-part virtual series will be recorded.
Mondays: April 1, 8 & 15
1:00-2:30pm
Virtual – held on Zoom
Series: $36; drop-in: $16

Register here. For registration assistance, please call the Miles Nadal JCC: 416-924-6211 x0 or email help@mnjcc.org

This is the registration link https://app.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/4983849?date=2024-04-01&view=month&scrollToCalendar=false

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Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. A co-production with the Grand Theatre and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre. Playing until March 2, 2024.

www.grandtheatre.com

Written by Jordi Mand

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and costumes by Sean Mulcahy

Lighting by Siohbán Sleath

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Mairi Babb

Ron Lea

Brendan McMurtry-Howlett

Shaina Silver-Baird

Ralph Small

A smart, funny, moving play about living even when one person chooses not to go on.

The Story. Rachel is a harried lawyer from Toronto, visiting her father and his partner Shelley in London, Ont. She’s brought Shelley the six dozen bagels she asked for to take to Temple the next day. They are the wrong kind of bagel. Who brings six dozen poppyseed bagels, I ask you? And then there is the little matter of Rachel’s father Sam deciding that since his cancer has come back and he’s in constant pain, he will avail himself of MAID (medical assistance in dying) in seven days. Rachel is not having a good day, and the bagels are the least of it.

The Production. Sean Mulcahy has designed a stylish, neat set of Sam and Shelley’s living room/kitchen. The room is light-filled with comfortable furniture. The kitchen is pristine with everything put away. A tea-towel hangs over the oven door handle. There are doors up center and to the house right and house left side.

Rachel (Shaina Silver-Baird) arrives, calls out, flops the bags of bagels on the counter in the kitchen and calls out again. Shelley (Mairi Babb) comes out of one of the closed doors up center. She asks Rachel to be quiet because Rachel’s father Sam (Ron Lea) is sleeping. Then the two have an extended conversation about bagels, specifically sesame vs poppyseed. Rachel has bought six dozen poppyseed bagels when Shelley is sure she asked for sesame. They didn’t have sesame, there was only poppyseed. Shelley questions Rachel on when she bought them and chided her for buying them so late when they only had poppyseed that no one at Temple would touch. Shelley has to make a good impression because she’s responsible for the bagels. You can’t buy good bagels in London, Ont. Rachel can’t see the importance of it all. She’s exasperated. Then she has to explain that she didn’t bring ‘the boyfriend’ because they broke up. More interrogation.

Sam (Ron Lea) appears from the same room that Shelley appeared from. He walks slowly with a cane, and is obviously in pain. He’s happy to see Rachel but has something to tell her. His cancer has come back and it’s spread. He can’t face more chemo treatments. He’s decided to avail himself of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) in seven days. Rachel is horrified and goes into overdrive to change his mind and call all sorts of experts to offer an alternative. As Rachel, Shaina Silver-Baird is direct, take charge, impatient when challenged because she feels that she is doing right and yet unsettled by this turn of events.

And so playwright Jordi Mand begins her buoyant, moving play with the setup of humour about bagels and making an impression and then drops the bombshell of Sam using MAID because he’s tired and hurts and wants to decide when he will leave this earth, on his terms.

This all happens in about the first 10 minutes so this is not a spoiler alert. If there is a spoiler alert for In Seven Days it’s that the cover of the programme got it wrong when it says the show is “a comedy about death.” It’s not. It’s a comedy about living and that’s a whole other thing and it will move you to your toenails.

Over the course of the 90-minute play people will gather to offer comfort. Rachel’s ‘former’ boyfriend, Darren, (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett) will arrive from Toronto, hoping to offer her support, even though they broke up. Sam’s boyhood friend Eli, (Ralph Small) now a rabbi, drops by both as a friend and to put things into a Jewish perspective. What Sam is planning to do is murder. It’s a sin. Sam knows it. The discussions between these two old friends, performed by Ron Lea as Sam and Ralph Small as Eli is to watch two acting pros play these two Jewish characters, who know the body language, the nuance and the profound eloquence of a perfectly placed shrug.

Ron Lea plays Sam as a man who is content with his life and his decision to end it. He’s loving to those around him, certainly Rachel and Shelley. He even comes to appreciate Darren, and that’s because Brendan McMurtry-Howlett as Darren won’t let him off the hook. There is a wonderful scene involving ice cream in which both men learn about the other and form a respect and appreciation. Brendan McMurtry-Howlett gives a charming, boyish and accomplished performance as Darren.

Mairi Babb plays Shelley as a woman who has done all the heavy lifting before we arrive. We assume that Shelley has had the gut-wrenching conversation with Sam when she first got the news of his recurring cancer and his decision to end the pain. Shelley is a woman who loves her partner and will support his decision, no matter how she feels about it.  She goes about her duties with determination and an effort to focus on doing well for the Temple when she brings the bagels, albeit the wrong kind! Mairi Babb plays Shelley as a woman who has to put up a good front, both for herself and for Sam. One can see the reasonings behind it. Mairi Babb gives a delicate, subtle performance of a caring woman.

Director Philip Akin digs deep into this play that is so suffused in Judaism and being Jewish. The relationships are beautifully illuminated, not just between father and daughter and loving partners, but also between two old guys who have known each other since they were little kids when they traded baseball cards while sitting on the curb. There is a physical expression of that close relationship late in the play between Sam and Eli that is perfect—it leaves you limp in your seat with the quiet emotion of it all. In Seven Days is a play about ceremony, ritual, tradition and making a hard decision that is right. Jordi Mand and her gifted cast and director, will have you thinking about it long after you leave the theatre.

NOTE: During the play Shaina Silver-Baird as Rachel sings the Hebrew song “Erev Shel Shoshanim”, often sung at certain Jewish ceremonies. I love that song and in my collection of world music, consider the renditions of it sung by Miriam Makeba and Nana Mouskouri to be two of the best. I’ll now add Shaina Silver-Baird to that special list. Beautiful.

Comment. In Seven Days Jordi Mand has written a play about living, grabbing life, showing up when a friend or loved one needs you there, no matter how dire the circumstances. It’s about changing your mind, but not in the way expected and changing your perspective but not in an easy way. It’s about doing what’s right for our loved ones. Terrific play. Cause for celebration.

A co-production with the Grand Theatre and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre

Plays until March 2 (in London, Ont.)

Opens in Toronto May 9 at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

www.grandtheatre.com

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.

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Live and in person at the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Created by Quote Unquote Collective commissioned by BroadStage, Santa Monica, in association with Nightwood Theatre, Why Not Theatre and the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund, presented by Canadian Stage.  Playing until February 25, 2024.

www.canadianstage.com

Book by Amy Nostbakken and Nora Sadava

Music and lyrics by Amy Nostbakken

Story by Akosua Amo-Adem

Vicky Araico

Seiko Nakazawa

Amy Nostbakken

Norah Sadava

Stephanie Sourial

Jokes by Mónica Garrido Huerta

Director, Amy Nostbakken

Choreographer, Orian Michaeli

Music director, Alex Samaras

Set by Lorenzo Savoini and Michelle Tracey

Costumes by Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart

Lighting by Andre du Toit

Addition sound design and sound consultant, Matt Smith

Projection designer, potatoCakes_digital

Cast: Joema Frith

Mónica Garrido Huerta

Germaine Konji

Norah Sadava

Alex Samaras

Fiona Sauder

Takako Segawa

Anika Venkatesh

Although earnest and well-intentioned, Universal Child Care is a relentless bombardment of data and lamenting stories passing themselves off as a concert and/or a theatrical event and it’s neither.

Amy Nosbakken and Norah Sadava who comprise Quote Unquote Collective, are certainly gifted theatre creators as exemplified by their award-winning play Mouthpiece about coping with death, finding one’s voice and dealing with who you are. It played internationally and was celebrated everywhere it played.

What then to make of Universal Child Care? Amy Nosbakken and Norah Sadava have created a show that shines a light on how four of the richest countries in the world–Japan, the United Kingdom (UK), the United States and Canada–deal with health care. In all cases it’s dire.

In Japan Takako Segawa plays a dancer who is married and therefore is not eligible for child care. She ponders divorce but needs to dance to feed her art but it doesn’t pay enough for child care. A vicious circle.

In the UK a lesbian couple (musicians/singers) have a child and want another one but can’t afford to live in London if that happens. They would have to move and that does not guarantee child care. A vicious circle.

In the US a loving couple have a baby and the husband works two jobs and it’s not enough money to pay for child care. A vicious circle.

In Canada a woman is on maternity leave, her husband works, and she finds out that the person taking over her maternity leave will be doing her job permanently. She has lost her job. There is either not enough money for child care or there is no space in a day care facility for another child and the wait time for a space is years. A vicious circle.

The despairing stories of the various couples are depressing. For 90 minutes we are bombarded with statistics and data projected onto the screened walls of the two levelled structure of the set, each painting a darker story than the last. In one case we are told 16% of the people on maternity leave will lose their jobs; 4% will file an appeal. Are we to assume that 16% of the people on maternity leave that lose their jobs work for unethical bosses with little regard for the law? Is that wishful thinking? Little information is offered.

Lorenzo Savoini and Michelle Tracey have designed this two leveled structure that is divided into four sections, each section representing a couple’s dwelling. There are no stairs joining the two levels. One wonders how the hard-working actors manage to go from the stage to the upper level of the set. The actors scurry up and down that structure by ladders affixed to the outside walls of the structure. It seems a perverse way of providing an actor with a 90 minute-workout as well as a performance, but I digress.

A stream of information of the cost of child care and other expenses in the US is projected so fast on the set one can’t register it properly. Fiona Sauder playing one of the UK couple sings a dense rap song so deliberately quickly, itemizing the many and various problems of child care, one had trouble processing the torrent of information. Is that the point?

The US character played by Joema Frith recites a poem to parenthood that is poignant, moving, beautifully spoken with passion and it was electrifying—at last—something one could consider, ponder properly and appreciate. But then the character receives a letter (about a job???) that again is projected in a scroll on the uneven walls of the set that the result is unreadable. Is that the point, that we are not supposed to know what the letter said—at least from my seat? Frustrating.  

Amy Nostbakken has directed this show that involves songs (which she wrote), choreography (Orian Michaeli), a cast that sings background sounds when others characters are talking, and generally a sense that it’s all a deliberate swirl of activity to create the breathless sense of losing one’s grip. Really?

The always compelling Germaine Konji begins the show by re-enacting giving birth in the most compelling scene of pain, screaming and doubled-over agony only to have relief when she ‘delivers’ a glowing orb of light that is gently passed from character to character, scene to scene (clever).

Mónica Garrido Huerta plays an undocumented immigrant who does stand-up and acts as the emcee of the evening, delivering jokes that are not funny and generally don’t land because they are overplayed.

One can be caught up in the manipulative emotion of these characters and their situations, but that does not translate into a viable theatrical endeavor. Aside from being a polemic about the failed social services in four rich countries, what is the point of this sprawling, unfocused bombardment of facts and data? It’s not a concert of compelling songs or a play with dramatic tension. Frustrating.

Comment. The irony has not escaped me that Universal Child Care is playing at a 144 seat subsidized theatre in which the top ticket price is $99 and the cheapest seat is $29 in the last row of the balcony, and is being seen by an audience in which child care is not an issue. It’s heartening to know that the companies that are co-producing the production (Nightwood Theatre, Why Not Theatre, the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund and Canadian Stage) are providing child care for the cast while they rehearsed and perform the show. Now if they can also offer the same child care to the audience who needs it, they might attract the next generation of theatre goers.

Created by Quote Unquote Collective commissioned by BroadStage, Santa Monica, in association with Nightwood Theatre, Why Not Theatre and the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund, presented by Canadian Stage.  

Plays until Feb. 25, 2024

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

www.canadianstage.com

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.

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Review: EARWORM

by Lynn on February 18, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto. A Nowadays Theatre Production in association with Crow’s Theatre.  Playing until March 3, 2024.

www.crowstheatre.com

Written and directed by Mohammad Yaghoubi

 Set by Amin Shirazi

Lighting by David DeGrow

Sound by Sina Shoaie

Photographer and videographer, Ali Mostolizadeh

Cast: Parya Heravi

Aida Keykhaii

Amir Maghami

Amir Zavosh

Mohammad Yaghoubi illuminates life in Iran and Canada from the point of view of Homa who embraces her freedom in Canada to express herself.

The Story. Homa is a stylish woman who emigrated from Iran to Canada. We get the sense from what she says that she found Iran oppressive to women and free speech. She revels in her life in Canada. She produces a podcast in which she muses on politics, ethics, freedom of speech etc.

Her adult son, Pendar lives with her but there is a complication. Pendar has a girlfriend, Fatemeh, who has a pet dog.

Fatemeh’s father is visiting from Iran and is strict about his culture and religion and feels the dog is unclean.  So the dog is living with Homa and Pendar, temporarily. Homa is not happy about this since she walks the dog, but she wants to do right for her son.

Fatemeh invites Homa and Pendar for a meal to meet her father. Homa and Pendar spend some time discussing what she should wear. Homa knows that Fatemeh’s father will want her to wear the hijab and she objects to Pendar, but eventually reaches a compromise after much discussion. When Homa is at Fatemeh’s place, her father doesn’t look at Homa because she is a woman. But Homa looks at him and thinks there is something familiar about him. And so a mystery is established about the father. The play explores that and lots of other ideas.  

The Production.  Writer-director Mohammad Yaghoubi is from Iran and came to Canada in 2015. I’ve been lucky to see his earlier plays: Winter of 88 and Heart of a Dog. Those plays reflected life in Iran. With Earworm he has opened up his focus to include life in Canada and Iran and thus broaden his audience reach. Earworm has some performances in Farsi with English surtitles, and most other performances are in English with the occasional Farsi translation. The audience is never disadvantaged by not knowing what is being said or read. Mohammad Yaghoubi takes care of his audiences. Scenes are titled and the name is projected in English and Farsi on the screened back wall of Amin Shirazi’s stylish set.

In fact, Mohammad Yagoubi wanted to open up his play to include a broader audience and not just Iranians, so all audiences are welcome to experience a voice who writes about a world we might not be familiar with.

The first Act has a lot of banter between Homa, beautifully played by Aida Keykhaii (Fertility Slippers, Heart of a Dog, Winter of 88 and Swim Team, this last as a director) and Pendar (Amir Maghami) who is always fiddling with his cell phone. He is devoted to his girlfriend Fatemeh (Parya Heravi)—they are always texting.

We also find out that Homa is invited with Pendar to Fatemeh’s apartment for dinner to meet her father. This will be tricky. Homa is a modern woman who dresses like she pleases. She knows that Fatemeh’s father is traditional in his ways and how he expects women to dress, i.e. to wear the hijab. She decides on a compromise but getting there is rather funny.

Homa is a take charge woman. She is proud of her uncompromising podcasts and the people who write her, usually from Iran, are grateful for her honesty.

At times Homa directly addresses the audience for comment. Homa believes that in Canada she can express her opinion and not lose her job. She asks the audience what they think. We have seen a lot of upheaval in our world of late, so the spread of opinions is interesting.

Act II is takes place in Fatemeh’s apartment where we meet her father, Mohammad, played by Amir Zavosh, who is quiet speaking and hardly looks at Homa because she is a woman. Homa stares at him with a puzzled look on her face. Aida Keykhaii as Homa is watchful, perhaps a bit agitated. He seems familiar but she can’t place him until she does.

Earworm has echoes in it of Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman’s Chilean drama about a man who brings home a good Samaritan one night who helped him when his car breaks down. The man’s wife hears them come in and recognizes the Samaritan’s voice, which conjures all sorts of memories for her, all terrible.

Playwright Mohammad Yaghoubi shines a light on Iran, its rigidity in how differently women are treated from men. The culture is rich and that’s illuminated too. In Earworm we also see the very dark side of what Homa left behind when she came to Canada and that is revealed slowly but relentlessly.

And in a truly theatrical turn, Mohammad Yaghoubi provides two endings to the play, and when you see the play, you see why. I thought that was fascinating. He makes one look at theatre in a different light and perspective rather than what we think a play should be and how it should be structured.

I love being unbalanced by a gifted playwright and director—and in this instance I didn’t mind that Mohammad Yaghoubi is both the writer and director here because he pulls it off beautifully.

A Nowadays Theate Production in association with Crow’s Theatre presents:

Plays until March 3, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

www.crowstheatre.com

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.

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Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Plays until March 3.

www.tarragontheatre.com

Written and performed by Diane Flacks

Directed by Alisa Palmer

Movement coach, Rebecca Harper

Set and costumes by Jung-Hye Kim

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Diane Flacks makes her exuberant entrance into the Tarragon Theatre from the audience carrying a small tray of glasses with tequila shots. She offers patrons a glass as she scurries down the side aisle of the theatre onto the stage, where she downs a glass herself. (The person next to me felt that it was unfair that all patrons were not offered the liquid refreshment, but I digress).

With graceful, sensual moves Flacks dances with abandon to rock/raucous music, flipping her long hair and swiveling her hips. She seems to be having a grand time. Wearing the roomy pant-suit and loose blouse designed by Jung-Hye Kim allow Diane Flacks to dance freely with exuberant big movements. She stands on stage in what seems a sort of sand-diamond playground with a chair and other props. She moves around the set with a natural ease, under the careful, sensitive direction of Alisa Palmer.

After Diane Flacks downs the tequila shot she says with breezy off-handedness that she had been drinking pretty heavily for a year, so much so that she went to her doctor to see about it. But she’s not ready to focus just yet why we are all gathered here.

With breathy enthusiasm Flacks talks about being Jewish and with it the attendant Jewish guilt. In a phone call to her “Bubbie” (grandmother) Flacks is chided about not calling for three days and as a holocaust survivor she deserves better from her granddaughter. Frankly, the “Jewish guilt” label is wearing thin.

Flacks riffs on Freud on guilt, women, being a lesbian until finally after what seems like an endless playful, upbeat stream of consciousness, she deals with the real reason for her guilt (and being Jewish has nothing to do with it). Diane Flacks is the reason for the end of her 20 year same-sex marriage because she fell in love with a much younger woman who was gorgeous and sleek—’a racehorse’ as Flacks describes her–who pursued Flacks and she could not resist. This resulted in the split of her family, upset for her two beloved boys and guilt at how it affected her former wife. Of course ‘blame’ is generally shared, although not equally. Flacks speaks of the annoyances of a long-term relationship: socks not picked up, other things that grate (“It’s not all my fault!”).

The tone of Guilt (A Love Story) changes here after the confession from what seems like forced frivolity and an effort to be irreverently funny, to being more thoughtful, introspective, but still seeing the humour even in a bad situation.

The most poignant, effective moments of the show are when Diane Flacks is still and calmly reflective, either sitting or standing. Her remembrance of the harrowing first year of her son’s life, when he was in hospital is particularly moving. At this she remembers other parents standing vigil over their sick child and she feels (rightfully) guilty that her child got better and theirs did not. There is a forgotten birthday, remembered with horror, humour and regret that is ‘fixed’ when everybody pitches in and tries their best.

Diane Flack is a perceptive, quirky observer of life, who knows how to put things into perspective with a humourous lens. Guilt (A Love Story) is a rollercoaster of pushed humour at the beginning of the show before settling into the more sobering, deeply moving and naturally funny aspects of her personal observations of guilt.     

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Plays until March 3, 2024.

Running time: 70 minutes (no intermission)

www.tarragontheatre.com

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.

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Review: TRUTH

by Lynn on February 15, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Plays until Feb. 23, 2024.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

Written by Kanika Ambrose

Based on the novel “The Gospel Truth” by Caroline Pignat

Directed by Sabryn Rock

Set and costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Wade Bogert-O’Brien

Jasmine Case

Chiamaka Glory

Dante Jemmott

Dominique LeBlanc

Jeff Miller

Micah Woods

NOTE: Recommended fir /ages 10+ /grades 5+

A moving piece of theatre about hope and tenacity in the face of despair and confinement.

The Story. It’s 1858 on a tobacco plantation in Virginia. Phoebe is 16, Black, is a slave who works on the plantation owned by Master Duncan.  Phoebe has not spoken since Master Duncan sold her mother who was then taken to another state three years ago. Phoebe adored her mother and the shock of losing her rendered her mute. Phoebe loves another slave named Shad. Shad’s brother, Will attempts to run away frequently but is caught and whipped. Then Dr. Bergman appears wanting to go birdwatching and Phoebe becomes his guide and her world changes.

The Production. Director Sabryn Rock has directed a sensitive, thought-provoking production of Kanika Ambrose’s emotion-charged play. We see and hear of the horrors of that life from Phoebe’s point of view. As Phoebe, Jasmine Case is silent but observant. She is curious and knowing. It was dangerous for a slave to learn how to read and write but Phoebe learned. There are tender scenes with Chiamaka Glory in the dual parts of Bea and Ruth. Phoebe would sit in the hollow of a tree, cocooned by Chiamaka Glory, book in hand, writing in her journal.

Phoebe is spirited in the scenes with Shad (a sweet performance by Dante Jemmott). There is such respect and love between them.

Master Duncan, played by a strict, commanding Jeff Miller has a complicated relationship with Phoebe, that becomes clear. Master Duncan is a brute relishing whipping Will (Micah Woods). Master Duncan’s arrogant humour is carried on by his brat-daughter, Tessa, giving a no-holds-barred performance by Dominique LeBlanc. What those slaves endured from these mean-spirited ‘owners’ is soul-crushing.

But miraculously, Kanika Ambrose’s play Truth is more about resilience, tenacity and the belief in hope, especially when Dr. Bergman (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) arrives from “The North.” It’s not just bird-watching that he’s interested in. It’s more important and Phoebe realizes how important instantly.

The production of Truth is vital in telling and retelling a story that needs to be told, often, and not just in Black History Month.

Comment. I love coming to Young People’s Theatre during student matinees to see how students engage with the subject matter. The audience I was in seemed engaged with the gripping story. But if anything gets the “ewwww” factor from kids of a certain age it’s public displays of affection. In a scene when Phoebe and Shad kissed, those kids were convulsed with “eeeeewwwwwwwwww”. I thought that was kind of sweet and funny. Most important, they ‘got’ the play.

Young People’s Theatre Presents:

Plays until Feb. 23, 2024.

Running time: 70 minutes (no intermission)

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W. Toronto, Ont. Produced by Aluna Theatre, playing until Feb. 25, 2024.

www.theatrecentre.org

Written by Jorgelina Cerritos

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Scenographer, Trevor Schwellnus

Costumes by Niloufar Ziaee

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Beatriz Pizano

Carlos Gonzalez-Vio

A beautifully rendered play of waiting, longing, identity, purpose and hope.

When the lights go down, we hear the sound of the full force of crashing waves on a shore and the sense of the wind as well.  Kudos to sound designer, Thomas Ryder Payne.

A man (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) and a woman (Beatriz Pizano) are on a dock by the sea. The sound of the waves underscores the scenes.  She wears a black dress over a blouse, and simple shoes. She is sitting at a small desk with two neat stacks of paper. She is marking the papers of one pile with a pencil and putting the marked papers on the other pile.

The man is standing on another part of the dock looking wistfully out to sea. He is unshaven and wears a worn sleeveless shirt and black mid-calf cargo pants. There is a ring of salt around the bottom of each pant leg. He is barefoot.  She is a clerk in some unknown department and he is a fisherman (hence the ring of salt.)

He needs a certificate to prove who he is so he can get on with his life. He does not know his name or his date of birth or where he comes from or his parentage. He does not suffer from amnesia. He just does not know. She is exasperated at such an absurd thing. She is meticulous about her job, ensuring all the information needed for the completion of forms is provided. She has no patience for this man. She keeps looking off to her right, into the distance to call “next” for the next non-existent person in line to be served. There never is anyone there.

Welcome to the absurdist world of Salvadoran playwright, Jorgelina Cerrito’s 2010 award-winning play, On The Other Side of the Sea.

Over the course of the 90-minute production the man, known only as “Fisherman of the Sea,” tries to engage the woman, we learn is named “Dorothea.” She is bitter about her situation. She lives in the city but is relegated to this beach ‘office’ because of her age. The administration wants only younger people in the city and has moved her out here to do drudge-work. She was in love with a man once who went to sea and has not returned. He holds the key to her unborn children. And she hates the sea and never goes swimming in it, so this placement is particularly onerous.

She is determined to get the information she needs for the forms for this fisherman. Initially she dismisses the man because he does not know his name or details of his life, a situation she finds unbelievable.

He is frustrated too but in a milder way. He can see beauty in his boat, the sea, the air, the sky, the sunrise and things that matter in his life. He once found love with a wonderful woman and wanted to marry but did not have the papers that offered his first name, last name, address and age.  He wanted to own a dog with whom he bonded in the pound, but did not have the needed papers of identity/birth certificate.

As rigid as Dorothea is in her determination to properly fill the forms only with factual information, that is as patient Fisherman of the Sea is to wait for her to soften and help him. There are echoes here of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 absurdist play, Waiting for Godot as two characters banter, philosophize, support each other and wait for another character (Godot) who never arrives. So Dorothea waits for customers and Fisherman of the Sea waits for his birth certificate.

Over the course of this beautifully directed, gently paced production by Soheil Parsa, Beatriz Pizano as Dorothea, and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio as Fisherman of the Sea, establish their characters. As Dorothea, Beatriz Pizano sits straight-backed in her wood chair. When she sits in the chair, she snaps her dress firmly under her. It’s a terrific bit of theatricality that so illuminates Dorothea’s character.  Her pencil strokes are sharp, methodical and don’t vary. There is only one way to do this job and she does it with determination.

As Fisherman of the Sea, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio is curious, more relaxed, friendly, inquisitive. He is mindful of the distance between them. That’s why the subtle closing of the distance between them and the relaxed body language of both actors for their characters is so beautiful to witness. The trio of sensitive director and his two gifted actors realizes the beauty of this delicate play. The business that suggests hope, is breathtaking.    

Aluna Theatre presents:

Plays until February 25, 2024.

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

www.theatrecentre.org

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Live and in person at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E., Toronto. Presented by the Eldritch Theatre. Plays until Feb. 24, 2024.

http://www.ticketscene.ca/series/1113

Written by William Shakespeare

Conceived and performed by Eric Woolfe

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Designed by Melanie McNeil

A pair of Depends will be helpful in coping with the horror and hilarity of this inventive, smart, artful rendition of the play.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play about murder, ambition for power, psychological intrigue, witches, supernatural interference and the intense love of Macbeth for his wife, Lady Macbeth and vice versa.

In the creative hands and minds of actor/creator Eric Woolfe and his equally inspired director, Dylan Trowbridge, the play becomes MacBeth: A Tale Told by an Idiot, still full of murder, ambition for power, but with the addition of puppets, it becomes all of the above with the addition of hilarity.

A plaid stage curtain with shredded bits hangs down and the sides of the curtain are attached to the side walls to reveal a large, black caldron with many and various puppets arranged along a structure at the back. Endless kudos to designer Melanie McNeil who continues to top herself with inventive sets.

We are primed from the get-go what we are in for. A baby in puppet-form is carefully laid on a ledge of the caldron. MacBeth (Eric Woolfe), bald but with a blotch of purple/red blood on the top of his head, with drips down his forehead and sides, appears—wide-eyed and haunted—holding a dagger that he then stabs into the baby and slices it open. Fistfuls of red fluff-guts are hauled out of the wound and tossed all over the place. The guts are followed by a deck of cards that miraculously appears from the wound. The baby is tossed aside and magic card tricks ensue.

Welcome to the gory, weird, gruesomely funny, magic-filled world of creator Eric Woolfe.

Eric Woolfe plays MacBeth and manipulates and gives voice to a plethora of puppets that play all the other parts. It’s an education in puppetry. Woolfe uses finger puppets, hand puppets, stick puppets and head puppets just to name a few. Eric Woolfe wears his Lady MacBeth puppet on his head or held in his hand. This Lady MacBeth is one of the most striking, dramatic, stylish, controlled, haunted and driven Lady MacBeths, alive or otherwise, I have ever seen. And interspersed with the puppets is a healthy sprinkling of magic, either with magically appearing playing cards, or mysteriously disappearing coins that improbably appear over there, or other examples of dexterous tricks.

While Eric Woolfe and his gifted crew go for the “EEWWWWW” factor to horrify the audience or catch them unawares with a joke, a funny line or a reaction, Shakespeare’s play is served in this edited, swift-paced production. Irreverence might be the idea skimming the surface of the production, but serious attention to detail and rigor is the bedrock of everything Eric Woolfe creates. When he is acting with his puppet characters, he’s fully into the character of MacBeth. The lines are crisply delivered and the intention honestly conveyed. That goes for his performance of the other characters as well.

Humour and drama are serious business and both are beautifully realized in MacBeth: A Tale Told by an Idiot. It’s typical of the artistry of Eric Woolfe, and then some.

Eldritch Theatre Presents:

Runs until Feb. 24, 2024.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

http://www.ticketscene.ca/series/1113

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Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. Presented by Soulpepper. Plays until Feb. 18, 2024.

www.soulpepper.ca

Adapted and directed by Gregory Prest

Based in part on De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

Original music and lyrics by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson

Set and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Ming Wong

Sound by Olivia Wheeler

Projection design by Frank Donato

Cast: Damien Atkins

Jonathan Corkal-Astorga

Colton Curtis

Damien Atkins gives a towering performance as Oscar Wilde in De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail, but the piece is a jumble of styles, tone and songs and is so overproduced, that the full power of the original letter is diluted. A disappointment.

The Story. From the production website: De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail is a musical fantasy based on the letter Oscar Wilde wrote while incarcerated for two years at Reading Gaol, to his love Lord Alfred Douglas. The letter was written a page a day over a period of three months, collected at the end of each day, and handed over to Wilde on his release from prison. 

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor in prison for gross indecency for his relationship with Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas. He wrote the long letter entitled “De Profundis” in Reading Gaol (Jail) in the last three months of his sentence, beginning in March 1897. The letter was written to “Bosie” and was a bitter indictment of Lord Alfred Douglas’ behaviour towards Oscar Wilde over the time they were together. The letter described prison life, loneliness, Wilde’s life lived for excess and pleasure, his love and devotion to “Bosie,” his philosophy on life, art, living, and later in the letter, religion.

The full version of the letter (unabridged) was only fully released for publication in 1960. Before that time Wilde’s literary executor, Robert (Robbie) Ross heavily edited portions of it pertaining to Bosie.

The Production. Adaptor/director Gregor Prest writes in his program note his respect for Oscar Wilde’s work “De Profundis” (Latin for: ‘from the depths’). Prest talks about love when it seems impossible as one idea he wanted to explore. The program note from the Artistic Leadership of Soulpepper: Gideon Arthurs (Executive Director) and Weyni Mengesha (Artistic Director) refer to “Wilde’s letters are woven through actual testimony from his trial for ‘gross indecency’, songs and epigrams to create something truly unique.” This suggests that other sources than the letter are incorporated into this production.

Unique it is. Successful is another matter.

Designer, Lorenzo Savoini creates a sense of elegance immediately when one enters the theatre and sees a huge ornately framed painting of a lush arrangement of flowers hung across the stage. One immediately thinks of Oscar Wilde’s world of beauty.

An upright piano is at the side of the theatre. A man in costume and a large hat announces he will offer background about Oscar Wilde and begins to wax poetically about the man. We hear a groan of “Oh God” behind the curtain. The man continues to speak and again, the voice behind the curtain calls out “Robbie”, a side door opens and Oscar Wilde (Damien Atkins) appears in a dressing gown asking Robbie (Robert Ross, Oscar Wilde’s close friend) what he is doing.

Robbie says that he is giving a deeper context to the audience about who Oscar Wilde is. Wilde looks at the audience and tells him to get another audience and disappears behind the door. Lots of laughter.

And so, with this light-bantering exchange adaptor Gregory Prest has upstaged the seriousness of the show before it even begins. And he begins on a disingenuous note as well. We don’t need a deeper context about Oscar Wilde, and certainly not from a character we don’t know.  We already know who Oscar Wilde is. That’s why we are in the room, and of course to see the wondrous Damien Atkins play Oscar Wilde. Interestingly, we are given no information about Robbie from Wilde. In fact, Robert Ross was Wilde’s one-time lover and after that a loyal, true friend who was a support when Wilde was in jail and when he was released.

The production proper begins with pings of composer Mike Ross’s electronic music to set a tone, I imagine. The music will vary from electronic to contemporary etc. The framed painting disappears, replaced by the stark gloom and claustrophobia of Wilde’s prison cell. There is an uneven concrete wall at the back and sides, a bucket as a toilet is in a corner, a narrow wood bench as his bed is against the wall and utensils for eating are under the bench. It beautifully establishes the oppressiveness of Wilde’s cell. He spent 23/24 hours there in solitary confinement.

Wilde (Damien Atkins) stands barefoot in the gloomy light (illumination also by Lorenzo Savoini) in a crème-coloured prison uniform of top and pants that has some kind of design on it (trees? Can’t tell). Damien Atkins as Oscar Wilde stands facing the audience; serious, haunted, wounded. He begins the letter, “Dear Bosie….” Atkins is initially measured in his pacing. His voice is deep and mellifluous. But then the speed ramps up as Wilde recalls the hurts, betrayals and slights that Wilde endured because of Bosie. Atkins then goes into warp speed as a torrent of elegant invective and anger pours out of him. It is hard to keep up with it all, he is speaking so fast. The speech illuminates the mind of a man who is perceptive, intuitive, psychologically astute about how manipulative and shallow Bosie is and aware of his effect on Wilde. But then he rages about why Bosie has not written to him or come to see him. No matter how knowing Wilde is, he’s consumed by his love for the morally bankrupt, Bosie.  

I wonder who that speech is for? I know it’s a letter for Bosie, but it’s being verbalized in a theatre where “life is lived on purpose.” Is it for Bosie? If so, it’s too fast to make sound points with the man you want to slam with points. Is it for the audience? Then ditto, slow down. At its simplest level it’s the speech of a man who has probably said and resaid it to himself, polishing and honing it for full force for all of his prison sentence. Fine, it should be said slower for full effect. (not glacial, but so that we can hold on to the points and appreciate their ‘smack’ value).

At times Damien Atkins as Oscar Wilde sings songs of loss, regret, anger etc. composed by Mike Ross with lyrics by Sarah Wilson. I don’t see why the songs are needed or what they offer besides the original letters. The show is based on one of the greatest letters of heartache, despair and perception ever written. I don’t see what these songs offer aside from a weaker version of more of the same in the letters, never mind that Damien Atkins has a wonderful, powerful voice.

Then there are the fantasy dreams of Bosie (Colton Curtis). For this the side walls are pulled back, more space is created downstage of the cell as well and the claustrophobic cell disappears. The boyish Bosie, played by a graceful, manipulative Colton Curtis, does various dances that are balletic and seductive. He captures Bosie’s shallowness and beauty to a ‘t’. But again, so does the original letter. The inclusion of “Bosie” seems overkill. Indeed, while it’s obvious that Gregory Prest has a close relationship with the material and shows sensitive and bold attention to the material, I found the whole endeavor overproduced, masking the true power of a gifted actor alone on a stage, performing one of the most moving pieces of writing of a tortured soul.  

 Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

Plays until February 18, 2024.

Running time: 100 minutes (no intermission)

www.soulepper.ca

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.

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Authenticity is dangerous and expensive” is literally what’s wrong with the fashion, entertainment, and journalism world. People should critically speak their truth if they’re so inclined. What’s the point of everyone applauding each others mediocrity???

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