Live and in person at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre (Berkeley Street), Toronto, Ont. A Red Sky Performance Production Presented by Canadian Stage. Playing until Jan. 29, 2023.

Directed and choreographed by Sandra Laronde

Set by Julia Tribe

Costumes by Lesley Hampton

Lighting by Matt Eckensweller

Motion graphics, animation and video design by Febby Tan

Composer and sound designers: Rick Sacks, Julian Cote, Pura Fe, Marie Gaudet, Marc Merilainen, Pierre Mongeon

Musicians: Ora Barlow-Tukaki

Marie Gaudet

Rick Sacks

Ian De Souza

Dancers: Daniela Carmona

Kristin DeAmorim

Eddie Elliott

Moira Human-Blaise

Jason Martin

Mio Sakamoto

A powerful telling of Indigenous stories: gripping, moving and uncomfortable.

Comment etc. I don’t know the vocabulary of dance to do justice to describing it in dance terms. But Sandra Laronde and her Red Sky Performance company is so vivid in their storytelling of Indigenous themes and culture, that while I might miss the specific details of her story telling in her choreography, the message she coveys is clear and resounding. Her choreography and her company’s performing of it, are both sensitive and muscular, tender and gripping.

I am using the shows published description for accuracy: “Miigis: Underwater Panther draws its inspiration from a prophecy in which the Anishinaabe must move westward or perish. It is about the great migration of the Anishinaabe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, moving from salt to freshwater.

Miigis explores this journey, the mystery beings, the rise of matriarchy, and the ancestral pull towards the next seven generations.

The 60-minute work will be performed to original live music and showcases the unique aesthetic developed over the company’s 22 years, combining contemporary Indigenous dance, theatrical innovation, and a fusion of athleticism, music, and film.”

Six bodies huddle under a slatted upside-down boat-like structure (kudos to designer, Julia Tribe). They quiver, poke an arm out of the slats, and stand up and then crunch down into the structure. It’s a lovely image of birth either creature, humans, but life of some sort. A huge moon is projected on a wall at the back, stage right and will slowly travel across the ‘sky’ to stage left. The percussive music is harsh, loud, rumbling, cacophonous—the beginning of the world. The ‘creatures’ form into fish, birds, beings that slither, crawl, jump, flip, swim and finally embrace.  

The dark sky projected on the back wall turns into a slow daylight. Vegetation forms in the distance on shore. Water is everywhere, undulating waves approach and recede. Eventually the images take place underwater as the dancers dance as if underwater.

At some point the music turns melodic but then brutal again. There are startling images suggesting residential schools, brutality to Indigenous peoples, beatings, hangings under the gaze of religious overseers. The scenes are short, quick, brutal and unforgettable.

Relationships seem to form. Bodies entwine. Movement is fluid, elegant, athletic, beautiful. Please see it.

A Red Sky Performance Production Presented by Canadian Stage.

Plays until January 29, 2023.

Running Time: One hour (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, Ont. until Feb. 12, 2023.

Adapted and directedby Marie Farsi

Based on the novel byAndré Alexis

Set, props and costumes by Julie Fox

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Music and sound by David Mesiha

Cast: Laura Condlln

Peter Fernandes

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

Tom Rooney

Tyrone Savage

Mirabella Sundar Singh

Adaptor-director Marie Farsi and her gifted cast, create a classy, nuanced, compelling production of this award-winning novel.

The Story and Production. Two Greek gods, Apollo (Tyrone Savage) and Hermes (Mirabella Sundar Singh) go into a bar (The Wheat Sheaf Tavern in Toronto)….and while they are drinking their beer and waiting for their wings to arrive, they make a wager. One wagers the other…what would happen if dogs were given human traits, would they die happy? The winner of the wager gives the other a year of servitude (thus in a way indicating one trait of humans, to lord it over another, to make them work for you, not with you. But I digress).

Hermes and Apollo go to a vet’s office in downtown Toronto and open the cages and let about 15 dogs free. The dogs are given a conscience, language and the ability to reason. Three dogs don’t want to leave so they remain in their cages. The rest of the pack of dogs go to High Park.

From that point on the dogs reason, wrangle, and maneuver so that eventually one dog leads and the rest follow. In this case the dog named Atticus (a confident, almost imperious Tyrone Savage) becomes the leader.

He’s described in the programme this way: “Atticus: an imposing Neapolitan Mastiff with cascading jowls.” In fact, it’s interesting to note how the dogs are described: Benjy (Peter Fernandes), a resourceful and conniving Beagle. Lydia (Peter Fernandes): a Whippet and Weimaraner cross, tormented and nervous. Prince (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff): A mutt who composes poetry. Max (Laura Condlln): a mutt who detests poetry. And Majnoun (Tom Rooney): a black Poodle, briefly referred to as Lord Jim. While he’s not described this way in the programme, Majnoun also does not trust other dogs.

So the dogs are described with their likes, dislikes and other esoteric attitudes, just like humans. The dogs have their own language of which they are very protective. Jealousies are formed and signs of aggression appear. There are also questions of individuality and personal freedom.

In director Marie Farsi’s elegant production, the cast wear conventional clothes to convey the kind of dog they are. There are no fur coverings, although Benjy wears a tweed jacket and holds something in his mouth that could be either a twig or a piece of straw and I hope it’s a twig.

For Atticus and his imposing jowls Tyrone Savage, who plays him, wears pants, a t-shirt and a big, grey cowl around his neck, voilà, the jowls. Bravo to designer Julie Fox for this impish, clever solution in conveying what Atticus should look like. Indeed Julie Fox is masterful in her costuming so we see what all the dogs should ‘look’ like. Tyrone Savage’s Atticus sparingly gives a flick of his head, as a dog might do, just to make us always aware that we are watching dogs, but with human traits.

Majnoun played by Tom Rooney, is thoughtful, proud, intellectual and smart. Tom Rooney wears black pants, a black t-shirt, a black leather jacket and his arms hang down in front of him with his hands forming gentle fists to suggest paws. Tom Rooney’s poise conveys Majnoun’s stature, confidence and a watchfulness. Majnoun also learns English and how to speak it.

Tom Rooney is giving a wonderful, performance. It’s nuanced, has these little moments of quiet listening, but like a dog, not a human. He transforms; standing a bit forward, arms hanging down with slightly clenched fists suggesting paws.  Wonderful.

Two of his owners are a literary couple, Nira (a caring, sensitive Laura Condlln) and Miguel (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) who find him and take him in.  He so likes Nira that he indicates his secret to her—he can speak English. Laura Condlln as Nira is at first incredulous, but then accommodating at this wonder, and enters into that world of belief and trust. Nira and Majnoun have esoteric conversations about philosophy, life, relationships etc. He is protective of her. He doesn’t like Miguel.

One day the couple go away for a short weekend. But something seems to have happened and they don’t come back. Majnoun waits there patiently, determinedly, like a dog would do. He has this unconditional love for the humans—I think that is a dog thing.  Or perhaps it’s reciprocal.

The dogs have jealousies, which is human and there is aggression and death, which could be a human trait or a canine trait. I won’t split fur trying to decide. There are several deaths in the play—there would have to be for the wager to proceed. Some are moving.

André Alexis has written a dense, complex book about a provocative situation—how will dogs deal with having human traits—will that make them happy or unhappy, if they have the learning and dealing with the human traits to allow them to go one way or another. In his book there are existential ideas to consider. Marie Farsi has adapted the book into this play with efficiency and thought.

Her production is inventive, clever, she uses the space well—there are rocks, a fire hydrant and some dog props—again, kudos to Julie Fox for her design.

The cast is generally first rate. They would give a flip of the head, or a woof here or a bark and a kind of prancing walk like a dog, but not overtly, just the hint of that to keep us aware. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is exuberantly flamboyant as Zeus, Prince and any dog he plays, with Miguel being a bit subdued. Peter Fernandes as Benjy might be playing a conniving Beagle, but he has disarming charm.  It’s interesting that death is considered differently by humans than the Greek gods do. With humans it’s painful, monumental and memorable. If it’s a human grieving for an animal it’s the same as a human grieving for another human. Do the gods even look at death that way? Would they appreciate it if a dog with human traits died happy? Do they know what happy is? Interesting question.

Marie Farsi is a smart director. She stages the action with graceful fluidity. She has a keen eye for the detail in the characters and the story. That said the production seemed long at 2 hours and 40 minutes. I can appreciate that you want to give each dog the personality they had in the book. But somehow the book seemed slim but packed with information, emotion, etc. And because each reader is individual the life of the story and the dogs seemed richer and more compact.

Still, Fifteen Dogs as a theatrical production is a worthy time in the theatre

Crow’s Theatre presents:

Plays until: Feb. 12 (and this is a holdover).

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (with one intermission).


Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. Until Jan. 29.

Written by Andrea Scott

Director and movement director, Ray Hogg

Music Director/composer, Alexandra Kane

Set by Brian Dudkiewicz

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Richard Feren

Projection design by Videocompany

Wade Bogert-O’Brien

Krystle Chance

Starr Domingue

Cameron Grant

Kaylee Harwood

David Keeley

Dominique Leblanc

Beck Lloyd

Monique Lund

Gracie Mack

Stewart Adam McKensy

Danté Prince

Andrea Scott has written an informative, illuminating play about Viola Desmond and the racism she endured in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, the play is not done justice because of Ray Hogg’s unnecessarily fussy, distracting, attention-grabbing direction.


I watched, with envy, as playwright Andrea Scott regularly posted on Twitter, her journey to get her play, Controlled Damage produced two years ago at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’sa fascinating play about Viola Desmond, the Canadian civil rights icon, who was from Halifax, so to produce it there was a no brainer. Its run was hugely successful, selling out before it even opened—I suspect that Andrea Scott’s determination to keep the play in the mind’s eye, had a lot to do with its success. And of course, one wants to see the play in Toronto.

The second production of the play was scheduled last year for the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. Andrea Scott’s home town, but COVID postponed that production until this year.

I did the next best thing to reviewing a production of the play, I reviewed (March, 2021) the published text of Controlled Damage and I suspect that Scott had a lot to do with getting it published so quickly.

From the blurb on the text: “Controlled Damage explores the life of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond and how her act of bravery in a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946 started a ripple effect that is still felt today. An ordinary woman forced to be extraordinary by an unyielding and racist world. Desmond never gave up—despite the personal cost to her and those who loved her. Andrea Scott’s highly theatrical examination of Desmond and her legacy traces the impact she has had on our culture, but also casts light on the slow progress of the fight for social justice and civil rights in Canada.”

One of the positive aspects of Viola Desmond’s fight for justice is that her story is now known across the country and she is commemorated on the $10 bill.

The Story. Viola Desmond had a rich and varied career. What was consistent with each change is that she excelled in whatever she tried. She was tenacious, determined, inventive, creative and independent. She trained as a teacher in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As Andrea Scott establishes in Controlled Damage, Viola was compassionate, gifted and understanding towards her students. As a Black woman she was fully aware of the world of subtle racism to which those students were subjected.  In 1932 Viola Desmond was an eighteen-year-old Black woman when a white superintendent made advances on her that were unwanted.  In this situation she stood her ground with resolve.

By 1936 she left teaching to study in Montreal to become a beautician. Her dream was to have her own beauty parlor and create a line of cosmetic products for Black women. She was also in love with Jack Desmond also from Halifax, a man who typically wanted his wife to stay at home and tend her household ‘duties’ while he made the money.  She wanted to finish her studies. Viola got her way. Jack had his own barbershop and eventually Viola opened her own beauty parlor; created her line of beauty products for Black women and also taught other Black women how to be beautician. Viola began travelling all over Nova Scotia selling and delivering her beauty products.

It was on one of those trips to Sydney, Nova Scotia that her car broke down in New Glasgow. The repair job required that Viola stay the night. On Nov. 8, 1946, Viola went to the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow to see a movie. She bought a ticket and sat downstairs, as she always did in Halifax, to be close to the screen because she was near sighted. 

A female usher told her she had to move to the balcony because she was not allowed to sit downstairs. Viola showed the usher the ticket and was prepared to pay the difference. That was not the issue. The usher said, “Coloureds don’t sit down here.” Such a policy didn’t exist in Halifax. There were no signs to that effect in the Roseland Theatre. 

Viola understood immediately. She sat there, quietly defiant and continued to watch the film. The Manager came and Desmond would not move. Then the police came and forcibly removed her from the theatre. She was injured in the transaction. She spent the night in jail. The charge was that she did not pay the proper one cent tax on the ticket. She was found guilty. There were appeals that went badly.  Her church reverend wanted her to fight the case and try another appeal. It went to the Supreme Court and was denied because of that technicality of the tax instead of the veiled/unspoken racism of having Blacks sit in the balcony. There were consequences after the trial. Both Jack’s barbershop and Viola’s beauty parlor suffered losses of business. Life was difficult. The marriage suffered.

Controlled Damage is not about the trial as the central theme. It’s about the world that Viola Desmond lived in, the racism she endured from whites and Blacks and the kind of determined woman she was.

The Production. The play takes place between 1917 and 1965, with most of the scenes taking place in 1946. One wonders, then, why set designer Brian Dudkiewicz chose to create an ultramodern square structure made of connected rods suggesting the outline of walls, that were then illuminated in neon. And if you sat on the side of the theatre or perhaps even in the middle, what was projected on the side and back walls might be obscured by the rods. It certainly made reading some of the information on the projections difficult. This structure sat on a raised playing area. Chairs are situated on either side of the playing area. The cast sit there when not in a scene.

Simple set pieces, chairs, a chaise, etc. are carried on and off efficiently. Why then is the outline of the structure necessary?

For some reason, director Ray Hogg has a woman in a coat, shoes and gloves enter the playing area and sit quietly in a chair, center stage as the audience fills in. At one point she takes off her shoes and carefully places them in front of the chair. She walks around.  Why? Who is she? The play hasn’t started so who is she and why is she there? We learn it’s Viola Desmond later on, but what are we to make of her presence before? Mystifying, and never explained.

The first scene of the play takes place Dec. 6, 1917, when Viola is 3-years-old.  Two ships collide in the narrow Halifax Harbour. One was carrying 2925 tons of munitions. There was an explode and the blast killed 2000 and injured hundreds. Three-year-old Viola was in her highchair in the kitchen, with her back to the window. When her father rushed in to see how she was, she was slumped over, the window blind fell on her head and she was covered in glass and she was not moving.  But she was alive. Her father James said: “It’s a miracle, Viola survived that blast. She was spared because the Lord had big plans for my little girl.” Her mother said, “Viola Irene Davis. The girl who lived.” (“The Girl Who Lived” is projected on the back wall). Indeed, that steely resolve at three years-old, imbued her character for her whole life.

This is a very intricate scene that playwright Andrea Scott has fashioned. In the text the scene is noted with the heading: “The Girl Who Lived.” The stage direction is simple: “Multiple spotlights highlight the chorus.” The chorus is noted as “Character A, Character B, and so on until F. But all the characters in the play are indicated in the text as to who they are by name, how old they are etc. Initially each member of the chorus speaks one line in turn that sets up the details of what happened Dec. 1917. Then various characters enter and speak one line of how they were affected (Viola’s father, mother etc.) interspersed with members of the chorus. As I said, it’s intricate.

In the programme at The Grand Theatre all the characters are noted as Woman 1, 2, 3 etc. as are the men, 1, 2, 3. Only Viola (Beck Lloyd)  Jack (Stewart Adam McKensy) and the Fiddler (Dominique Leblanc) are noted by name. So, unless one knows who each actor is already to identify who they are also playing during the production, one is out of luck in trying to figure out the name of the character they are playing.

Rather than keep it simple, with the chorus speaking in place, (“Multiple spotlights highlight the chorus,”) director and movement director, Ray Hogg has his chorus of at least nine, flitting all over the stage while saying their one line in turn. Keeping track of who is talking and what they are actually saying clearly is challenging, to say the least. A lot of the story is lost in what turns out to be confusing rather than illuminating.

Viola was a gifted, committed teacher to her students and used clever ways to teach them. One day the superintendent (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) came in to her class to observe and criticized her for the way she was teaching—having the children throw a ball to coax out a fact—and what she was teaching—about the provinces and slavery. He said they were not renewing her contract but if she was more accommodating to him, sweeter, she could keep her job. He attempted to stroke her cheek and she told him in no uncertain terms not to do that.

Andrea Scott is measured in the information of the scene and spare in the way the superintendent made advances. Ray Hogg however, directs the scene with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Not only does the superintendent come on to Viola by stroking her cheek, but he also begins to unbuckle his belt and take out part of his tucked in shirt, until a student comes in and interrupts his intention.  Overkill direction to make one suck air and cover one’s eyes.  I felt the same way about a scene in Act II when Ray Hogg has three women dance on stage, throw popcorn in the air and soon after return pushing big brooms in an elaborate dance to sweep up the popcorn. Again, Andrea Scott wrote a simple scene. Ray Hogg’s distracting direction/choreography blew it up.

Projections from Videocompany are also problematic. In the text each scene has a heading to describe it: “Truth and Fiction,” for example. There is also a date and location indicating when and where the scene took place. In the production it would have been simple, efficient and clear to have a projection on the back and side walls of the stage with the heading and the date and place. But not here…..The heading is projected on the back wall and the date and place are projected on the two side walls. One had to be quick to read them. One also had to be lucky nothing obstructed one’s view—from my seat, one of the set’s neon rods always cut off some part of the information on the side wall.

In the text, Andrea Scott ends one of the scenes with the caption: “…multiple images of historic, Black Canadians are projected on the set.” Videocompany clutters the idea by projecting the names (not the images) of historic, Black Canadians plus who they were in smaller print.  There seemed to be different names on different parts of the walls, so one didn’t have enough time to read them all and note who they are. A shame. That information would have been important to read and consider.

As Viola, Beck Lloyd is poised, composed, clear, confident and in control. She illuminates Viola’s resolve, her tenacity, compassion and concern for her students and the Black women she serves as her clients. It’s a nuanced and multi-dimensional performance that towers over the production. The other actors for the most part seem to be directed to over-act or give overly broad performances.  

Andrea Scott illuminates the kind of person Viola was. In her quiet way Viola Desmond (née Davis) was a pioneer as a Black business woman leading the way for others. She was not only a beautician, she created products for Black women and build a business that sold them. It’s noted in the play that you would not find a Black beautician working in a white beauty parlor. But such was Viola’s ability and reputation that she had white and Black customers.

Andrea Scott has written a compelling, thought-provoking, complex play. She explores the racism a Black person had to endure, certainly as it pertained to Viola in that theatre. Scott also explores reverse racism—of her Black friends who consider her “uppity” and “putting on airs” because she’s part white. They don’t want the added attention of this woman who wanted justice for what happened to her at the cinema. They want to forget the incident and go on with their lives.

Scott has fashioned the play as if it was Greek in nature—huge issues are explored—with a Greek chorus that represents the people. Her dialogue is sharp, smart, and vivid.  Viola’s case was taken up with her minister (a dignified Cameron Grant)  and his wife (a determined Krystle Chance) who said: “Everything is not fine. Being tolerated isn’t enough….As long as we stay silent and let people disrespect our right to live with dignity we’re going to our graves unhappy, dissatisfied and broken.”

Scott also explores the politics of skin colour and the nuances in descriptions. Viola was light-skinned because she was of mixed race: her mother was white and her father was Black. A young student of Viola’s who was darker skinned challenged her about how they were treated differently. There are also pointed comments on wanting to straighten hair to look ‘whiter’. The source of the title Controlled Damage is also interesting. A cream is applied to Black hair to straighten it. “…what we’re doing is breaking down the natural strength in Black hair in order to make it smooth and manageable, which is called controlled damage.” The same could be a metaphor for racism to keep a person of colour down, under one’s thumb and ‘manageable.’

Scott also illuminates the subtle difference between the word “Negro” and its connection to slavery, and the word “coloured” to note the difference and create a distance from slavery.

Comment. As noted in the play, Viola Desmond wasn’t an activist. She says she wasn’t a “Rosa Parks” (who was a true activist and was tireless in her pursuit in changing a racist system). She did continue to take her case higher up the legal ladder because as she says: “I did nothing wrong.”  In fact it was others who continued Viola Desmond’s cause long after she died (in 1965 in New York City when she was only 50). But because of the racism she experienced Viola got people to notice and fight for a change. Having her face on the $10 seems a small victory, since racism is still with us in all its ugliness. Still Controlled Damage is an important, necessary play that informs us of how much further we need to go in race relations.

Andrea Scott’s play is terrific. The play deserves to be seen across the country in a much better production, definitely with another director and designer.

The Grand Theatre presents:

Plays until: January 29, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with 1 intermission).


Review: Martyr

by Lynn on January 16, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the AKI Studio, Daniels Spectrum, Toronto, Ont. Plays until Jan. 29, 2023.

Written by Marius von Mayenburg

Translated by Maja Zade

Directed by Rob Kempson

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound by James Dallas Smith

Cast: Ryan Allen

Aviva Armour-Ostroff

Charlotte Dennis

Deborah Drakeford

Ryan Hollyman

Richard Lee

Adriano Reis

Nabil Traboulsi

This is a challenging, fascinating, frustrating play that seems to tick all the boxes for being timely and woke: a student is mired in religious fundamentalism; the teachers, the head master and the Vicar are mainly clueless or fearful on how to deal with it. Too often the playwright stacks the play in such a way that it’s unbalanced and obvious. Characters are one dimensional and too often dim, sexist or inept. The cast is valiant and committed.  

The Story. Benjamin Sinclair is a young teenager who refuses to swim in a co-ed class. His mother Ingrid Sinclair demands to know what his problem is: drugs, body image? He denies both. He has discovered God and has become devoted to the writings in The Bible (New Testament), especially the teachings of Jesus. Benjamin finds that the girls in their bikinis are too provocative and their presence goes against the teachings in the Bible on purity.

His mother is unable to deal with Benjamin’s zealotry, as is the Vicar who teaches his religious class and the Head Master who brushes off Benjamin’s fervor. His biology teacher, Erica White, attempts to deal with Benjamin directly but she too is stymied. Benjamin finds some understanding with his classmate George who is slightly disabled. Benjamin is given a perfect opportunity to use his religious fervor in trying to cure the reason for George’s limp. Not surprisingly, the attempted cure fails.

The Production. Jackie Chau has designed a set of a bare raised rectangular black platform in the middle of the space. The audience sits on either side of it, facing each other. The cast of eight divide themselves and sit on either side of the other ends of the raised platform in orange chairs. Props are beside some chairs to be carried on stage and off.

At the top of the production, Benjamin (Nabil Traboulsi) sits in a chair while his concerned, frustrated mother Ingrid (Deborah Drakeford) stands in front of him, demanding to know what has gotten into him, that he refuses to participate in the swim class. Benjamin is insulted that she asks if he’s on drugs or ashamed of his body. Soon after this he begins to quote the Bible. With every comment from Ingrid, Benjamin has a line from the Bible that justifies his position and even challenges hers. Through the Bible Benjamin accuses his mother of adultery because she is divorced. Never mind that her husband left her and the family, for Benjamin the Bible is the only frame of reference. He believes everything in it, at least the New Testament, and takes everything at face value. There is no nuance or subtext in Benjamin’s thinking.

Right from the get-go director Rob Kempson establishes the intense give and take of Benjamin and his mother Ingrid in the compelling performances of Nabil Traboulsi as Benjamin and Deborah Drakeford as his mother Ingrid. As Benjamin, Nabil Traboulsi is focused and compelling. Benjamin considers himself pure and the Bible will lead him on the path to righteousness, while those around him are going to hell. Benjamin knows the Bible so well that nothing any adult says to him trips him up. He is the perfect zealot. As his mother Ingrid, Deborah Drakeford is that wonderful mix of a single parent who is exhausted from work—she is working the night shift one assumes as a nurse—and frustrated with the mysterious antics of her pubescent teenage son. She does not know how to deal with this new-found religion of her kid and it seems neither does any adult around him.

The Head Master, Willy Belford (Ryan Allen) is busy deflecting any responsibility in dealing with the issue. He spends a lot of his time commenting on the appealing appearance of Erica White (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), the biology teacher. He asks if she has done anything different to her hair; is she wearing perfume; he likes her ensemble. At various times in such dialogue it is wonderful hearing gasps of disbelief in the audience. Almost nothing is really dealt with seriously by this light-weight Head Master.

One would expect the Vicar Dexter Menrath (Ryan Hollyman) to be able to seriously debate the Bible and context with Benjamin, but that’s not the case in the play. Ryan Hollyman plays the Vicar with a wonderful confused accommodation, trying to comfort and ease Benjamin instead of reasoning with him.

Initially only Lydia Weber (Charlotte Dennis), a classmate of Benjamin, has the confidence to challenge him. Lydia is a young teenage girl in tune with the power of her budding sexuality and sensuality when it comes to Benjamin. Lydia’s skirt is short and her blouse is form-fitting. She stares him down, by coming close to him. She quietly, seductively makes Benjamin touch her—which we have learned earlier, is a no-no in his rigid world.  As Lydia, Charlotte Dennis is fearless. She pins Benjamin with a look, daring him to look away. And yet she is also a kid who wants to go for ice cream when she finished toying with him. Terrific performance from Charlotte Dennis. Designer Jackie Chau has added a note of costume wit for Lydia by giving her red laces for her brown brogues.

It is natural that both Benjamin and George (Adriano Reis), both misfits, would become friends. Benjamin fancies himself George’s spiritual leader in a sense. George would like a closer, more personal relationship with Benjamin. Adriano Reis, as George, is shy, tentative and gradually gets the confidence to make a move, that is of course repelled.

As the play progresses Benjamin’s zealotry intensifies when he is challenged by his biology teacher, Erica White. She takes it upon herself to study the bible to present a reasoned adult response to Benjamin. As Erica White, Aviva Armour-Ostroff gives a blazing performance of an adult who recognizes how dangerous Benjamin’s religious fervor is. When she offers a quote from the Bible that shoots down a comment he has quoted, he answers by saying the devil is speaking through her. As relationships spiral out of control—Erica’s partner Marcus (Richard Lee) offers no support, Erica takes drastic measures to remain in place and fight for her position.

Marius von Mayenburg has written a fascinating yet frustrating and troubling play. It’s fascinating because it deals with the dangers of religious fervor; a weak educational system that is afraid to solve difficult problems; developing sensuality; parental frustration; and  inappropriate sexual language in the work-place, among others.

But it’s frustrating because von Mayenburg, for the most part, has underwritten the characters. Not one adult, not even the Vicar, seems to know how to deal in any way with Benjamin’s zealotry. He stacks the deck against the adults by creating them as weak, witless for the most part, and totally without intellectual competence except for Erica White.

Benjamin has no life before that first scene. Where did this love of the Bible come from? What kind of a life did he have before that? We don’t know because von Mayenburg doesn’t say.  

Von Mayenburg teases by looking like he will go deeper in the play, then pulls back. When Benjamin plants a dangerous seed in George’s brain by saying Erica White is Jewish (there is no proof in the play) and the Jews were the enemy of Jesus and they have to stop her, George accuses Benjamin of being a Nazi. This looks promising, that at last Benjamin’s blinkered attitudes will be properly challenged. But von Mayenburg pulls back and doesn’t explore that idea. Frustrating.

But in spite of the play’s frustration, Rob Kempson and his gifted cast, have created a thought-provoking production. It’s beautifully directed, the pacing is almost fluid in it’s flow from scene to scene. Almost before one scene ends, the next scene flows into it, with balletic transitions. Relationships between characters are clearly established. The commitment of this cast to the work is never in doubt. Their gentle grip on the audience’s attention never lets them waiver.

Comment. As usual, ARC has produced a compelling production of a challenging play. This is its Canadian premiere.  Martyr first opened at the Schaubűhne Theatre, Berlin in 2012. It had its English premier in 2015 at the Unicorn Theatre in London, Eng, a theatre for young people. As I said the play is fascinating and frustrating, in that the playwright seems to hold back in making the play and its arguments balanced. That said, it will generate a lot of discussion, it will rankle and unsettle the viewer, as challenging theatre does and therefore must, MUST be seen to draw your own opinion. I have faith that you will.  

Produced by ARC.

Opened: Jan. 14, 2023.

Closes: Jan. 29, 2023.

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


I’m doing a course on Jewish Playwrights

It’s on Zoom.

Hi Folks,

There is a slight revision to this course. In the European section I listed Gottoldt Ephraim Lessing and his play Nathan the Wise.

I am revising this. Instead of Gottoldt Ephraim Lessing and Nathan the Wise I am referencing Tom Stoppard and his autobiographical play Leopoldstadt.

I’m doing this course through the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre by Zoom, on Jewish Playwrights in January. Please check it out:

Community Programs: Arts & Culture 2022-23TheatreTalks and Presentations


Influential Jewish Playwrights: What Comes First, Being a Playwright or a Jew?Register for the session

 Purchase as drop-in via the calendar below

Start date: Monday, January 16 2023.


 On Monday from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM.

 From 1/16/2023 until 1/30/2023

Location: MNjcc Zoom Meeting


Is there a distinction between being a Jewish playwright and a playwright who is Jewish? What comes first, being a playwright or being a Jew? Or are they entwined? Is it obvious in the work? Is there such a thing as a Jewish theatrical sensibility? Learn about some of the most influential European, American and Canadian playwrights and their theatrical works that have made a difference. This virtual series willl be recorded.       

Guest speaker: theatre critic Lynn Slotkin 


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How could I forget this one!!!

GIRLS & BOYS Jan. 26-Feb 12

This plays at Crow’s Theatre and is the HERE FOR NOW production that knocked my socks off in the summer. A gripping story of an unravelling marriage.

Fiona Mongillo gives an astonishing performance of a young woman recalling what happened. It is an elegant, beautifully evolving story, subtle, nuanced and a gut-punch.

Written by Dennis Kelly, directed with skill and brains by Lucy Jane Atkinson

Miss this at your peril.


Happy New Year.

I’m looking forward to seeing as many productions as I did in 2022 (196) if not more. I’m looking forward to continuing seeing theatre far and wide across the city, province, country and various cities internationally, in large theatres and small, no matter the size of the hole in the wall theatre, to discover new work, talent etc. and rediscover familiar work in an unfamiliar way.

What I’m looking forward to seeing in January, 2023:

Jan 2-7 The Little Pinko Hen – at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, Queen St. E.

Jan. 6- 14 Greenhouse Festival of New Work – at Tarragon Theatre

Jan. 10-Feb. 5 Fifteen Dogs Opening Jan 13 at Crow’s Theatre

Jan. 13-29, Jan. 14 (opening) Martyr opening Jan. 14 at Aki Studio produced by ARC

Jan. 17-29 – Controlled Damage opening Jan. 20 at the Grand Theatre, in London, Ont.

Jan. 20-Feb. 4, Fall on Your Knees– Part 1 Canadian Stage

Jan. 22-Feb. 5, Fall on Your Knees—Part 2 Canadian Stage

Jan. 25-Feb. 11 The Extinction Therapist– Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont.

Jan. 28-Feb12, Between a Wok and a Hot Pot, produced by Cahoots, at the Theatre Centre.


Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Mirvish Productions. Playing until February 18, 2023.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Laurence Connor

Choreographed by Joann M. Hunter

Set and Costumes by Morgan Large

Lighting by Ben Cracknell

Sound by Gareth Owen

Music director, Ben Mark Turner

Cast: Vanessa Fisher

Jac Yarrow

Tosh Wanogho-Maud

Plus a chorus of 22 singers/dancers and 16 children

Buoyant, bright, lively, energetic. A good way to introduce kids and adults to musical theatre if they don’t already go to the theatre.

The Story. This production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  has come from the Palladium Theatre in London, for a long run at the Princess of Wales The music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.They wrote it in their early 20s and it was their second musical—the first one was not performed until 1968. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was not performed professionally until 1972 at the Edinburgh Festival. There were various iterations of it before that, but the 1972 production was the first professional viewing.

It’s based on the story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph was one of 12 sons born to Jacob. Joseph was his favourite son, his son of old age. To show that love, Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colours. Such favouratism by a parent is not a formula for family stability. This coat didn’t go down too well with Joseph’s brothers, who hated him because he was the favourite, and they thought Joseph flaunted that favoritism.  Joseph could interpret dreams and one dream suggested that in time Joseph would have dominion over his brothers.

At first the brothers plotted to kill him. Then they decided to sell him into slavery to some passing Ishmaelites. They told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal and they brought him Joseph’s coat, torn and bloody as proof.

Joseph in the meantime prevailed and found himself in Egypt. Through smarts his abilities to interpret dreams came to the attention of the Pharaoh of Egypt who had been troubled with bad dreams. Joseph was able to decipher the Pharaoh’s Dreams. There would be seven years of good crops followed by seven years of bad. Pharoah made Joseph his right-hand man to plan for the famine. It’s here that Joseph is able to finally face his family. They come to Egypt because they are starving and they hear that Egypt has food. There is a reconning between the brothers. 

And they all sing about it.

The Production. The story is introduced by a Narrator (Vanessa Fisher) who moves things along to keep us on track. It starts in a classroom and the teacher who is also the Narrator, tells the children of the story of Joseph (Jac Yarrow) and his family and the technicolor dreamcoat.

It’s not the only time Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have gone to the Bible for a story for a musical. They also wrote the equally huge mega-musical, Jesus Christ Super Star.It’s a show about Jesus being betrayed by one of his disciples. Part of that seems a debate between Jesus and Judas who betrayed him. Both of these roles in Jesus Christ Super Star had great opportunities to belt out a song.

Interestingly, in this early musical of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, there are few opportunities for Joseph to belt out. Jac Yarrow as a very sweet, engaging Joseph makes a quiet entrance into ‘the classroom’ singing “Any Dream Will Do.” It’s melodic, understated and easily hummable—pure Andrew Lloyd Webber. Joseph is even subdued in his dream interpretations.

The one with the flashy part and belting numbers is the Narrator—who is played by the multi-talented Vanessa Fisher. She is a belter, a fine dancer and a wonderful actor as well. Interestingly, while it’s called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat you would expect Joseph to have the star-bow, the last bow. In fact, it’s Vanessa Fisher as the Narrator who has the star-bow.  I think that’s fitting.

How does Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fare against other Webber-Rice musicals such as Jesus Christ Super Star and Evita?  With Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor DreamcoatAndrew Lloyd Webber arrived fully formed musically, with his lilting, melodic, hummable uncomplicated music so prevalent in all his musicals. There is early evidence of his penchant for the reprising of some songs and repeating chords to stick in the memory. There are more reprises in other musicals of his songs, but the technique of repetition is obvious here.

In Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Tim Rice’s lyrics are rather banal.

From the song “Benjamin Calypso”: “No Ifs. No Buts. Benjamin is honest as coconuts.” Is mystifying.

With the hit song: “Any Dream will Do”, the first song in the show, we have these lyrics:

“I close my eyes, draw back the curtain

To see for certain what I thought I knew

Far, far away, someone is weeping

But the world was sleeping

Any dream with do.”


Apparently, it’s supposed to make sense after we see the whole show when the song is reprised. Ok, I’ve seen the whole musical. It still makes no sense. In other shows, and certainly in Evita, the lyrics are more intellectual, even sophisticated. But occasionally I find in Tim Rice’s later musicals he seems to write for himself, rather than the character. Still I do see a maturity, a progression in his lyrics from this show to others. With Andrew Lloyd Webber he just seems to copy either himself musically or Puccini.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a good way to introduce a young person or anyone not familiar with theatre, to musical theatre. Director Laurence Connor keeps the quick pace moving. It’s a loud, busy musical with lots of dancing and rock-concert lighting. Kudos to choreographer, Joann M. Hunter and Lighting by Ben Cracknell. There is nothing in the story that will be intimidating or challenging. But I found that in many cases I could not make out the lyrics because of the over amplification and the loudness of the music. I didn’t have a clue what Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud) is singing (“Poor, Poor Pharoah”) thank heavens for google. Tosh Wanogho-Maud is very lively with impressive bumps and grinds as Pharoah, aside from being unintelligible when singing.

I must confess reviewing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is like reviewing popcorn—which they sold at the theater so you could munch while you bopped to the music. It’s an entertainment that just washes over your head. The production values are very high and are meant to dazzle more than anything.

Subtlety is not its strong point, and there is a wonderful subtle moment that seems to wiz by. When Joseph sings “Any Dream Will Do….” There are these lyrics:

“May I return to the beginning

The Light is dimming, and the dream is too

The world and I, we are still waiting

Still hesitating

Any Dream Will Do.”

At that moment Joseph, played by an actor who is white, and the Narrator, who is an actress who is Black, stand on the stage side by side, holding hands.

If that isn’t a dream of equality, then I don’t know what is.

They even pause in the song so that the moment has our focus, but because everything is so overplayed and overblown in this musical, I’m not sure that moment is realized for what it is.

I guess that’s why one needs theatre critics to point it out.

Comment. Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat is light entertainment as substantial as popcorn, gourmet popcorn, but still popcorn all the same.

Mirvish Productions presents:

Plays until: February 18, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until Jan. 7, 2023.

Live and in person at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Until Jan. 7, 2023

Written by Matt Murray

Directed by Tracey Flye

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Jareth Li

Projection designer, Cameron David

Co-choreography by Tracey Flye and Jennifer Mote

Music director, arrangements and orchestrations by Bob Foster

Cast: Dan Chameroy

Eddie Glenn

Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Ross Petty

Stephanie Sy

Alex Wierzbicki

And eight wonderful dancers;

Silly, funny ‘bootiful’ holiday fun

This is the annual family musical of fractured stories produced by Ross Petty, who gives family’s a reason to laugh and boo at this time of year. This year is a bitter sweet affair because after more than 25 years of doing these kinds of fractured pantomime shows, Ross Petty is retiring. So, Peter’s Final Flight!is exactly that. It’s Ross Petty’s final production and it has all the hallmarks that one expects of a Ross Petty show, as well as some surprises.

The show is sort of based on Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up and his band of lost boys. In this case it’s the filming of the story of Peter Pan. Peter (Alex Wierzbicki) is a thoughtful actor playing Peter Pan. He’s very serious and knows who he is. His co-star, Erica (Stephanie Sy) plays Wendy and she misses her cue for a scene because she’s fallen asleep on the set. Peter is exasperated with her. Also, she is always on her Instagram account posting photos of her every movement.

Somehow, they get transported to Neverland. Captain Hook (Ross Petty) is dead (but his ghost is around)  and they have to deal with Mrs. Hook (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) who is mighty angry and vengeful and looks on these intruders as the real Peter Pan and Wendy. So she seeks revenge.

There is an odd character named Plumbum (Dan Chameroy) who has a purse with magic ferry dust, in case one gets into trouble. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hook steals the purse and therefore has the potential to be indestructible. Peter and his friends really have to stop Mrs. Hook.

If this sounds a bit complicated, I must confess that I found the story by Matt Murray, a bit too complex. But there are lots of sight gags, double entendres for the audiences and lots of opportunities to boo, which gets everybody revved up. Mrs. Hook makes her entrance with Smee, (Eddie Glen) her husband’s old side-kick, and as soon as the audience sees her all in black looking angry and forbidding, they begin to boo. She looks at them with disdain and they boo louder. She sneers and tells them to SHUT UP!!! And they boo harder.

It’s a routine than never gets old.  Occasionally the ghost of Captain Hook makes an entrance played by Ross Petty who is returning to play one of his most beloved villains. He too knows how to play the audience and get boos out of them.

“Did you miss me?” he sneers at them and they boo. And he smiles back and them and they boo louder.

There are topical jokes about government funding to the arts; the lack of children’s medicine on pharmacy shelves, lots of puns and groaner jokes. It’s a mix of the tried, true and familiar. Audiences love the chance to interact, boo, talk back with earnest and to be insulted in a good-hearted way.

Michael Gianfrancesco has designed vibrantly colourful sets; Ming Wong’s costumes are festive, and Jareth Li’s lighting is dazzling. Cameron Davis has created lots of projections that are neon in colour. It’s directed at a fast pace by Tracey Flye who also co-choreographs it with Jennifer Mote.

For this farewell production, Ross Petty has his company of stalwarts such as Eddie Glen who plays Smee. Eddie Glenn is always jolly, impish, a teaser and who really knows that Mrs. Hook is a terrible person and tries to thwart her. Sara-Jeanne Hosie plays Mrs. Hook.  Sara-Jeanne Hosie has played the villain in other Ross Petty shows when he decided to take a year off playing the villain. She is clever, knows how to play the audience for boos and her timing is impeccable.

Dan Chameroy also returns to play the loveable Plumbum who has always got a cheeky answer for everything. Plumbum has a huge blonde wig, garish makeup that is askew and wears high-top sneakers. As Plumbum, Dan Chameroy is gloriously funny.

Of course Ross Petty is the best villain you ever saw—both dashing and forbidding and always funny. He plays the audience effortlessly. Relishing every boo. Smiling broader when the boos get louder.

These Ross Petty shows are also great for showcasing new talent. So we have Alex Wierzbicki playing a lovely, charming Peter. He’s earnest, concerned and accommodating. And Stephanie Sy who plays Wendy who becomes more responsible in Never Land than she was in the real world. Both Alex Wierzbicki and Stephanie Sy dance energetically and sing up a storm. The backup singers and dancers are also very talented.

It’s interesting that Ross Petty didn’t put himself in the centre as the villain for this final production. I think he is giving back to those who have supported him for years. As I noted, Sara-Jeanne Hosie was the villain for a few years and it’s a tip of the hat to have her back for the final production. Eddie Glen has been in these shows for years and is a favourite. And Dan Chameroy is a hoot as Plumbumb.  So, Peter’s Final Flight! is a family affair of talented people coming back for Ross Petty’s final production.

Ross Petty gave a heartfelt speech about how doing these shows were the best adventure of his life. You believe him. Many families grew up over the years with his pantomime shows at this time of years. They in turn took their kids who then took their kids. They all seemed to be in that audience when I saw it. Ross Petty and his wacky shows will be missed.

Ross Petty Productions Presents:

Plays Until: Jan. 7, 2023

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 intermission)


2022 Tootsie Awards

As many of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do The Tootsie Awards that are personal, eclectic, whimsical and totally subjective.

Here are this year’s winners:


The Guts of a Bandit Award

Any Artistic Director and theatre company that was bold enough to produce theatre in 2022 after 18 months of closure, either by streaming or in person work. Bravo and thank you.

Mitchell Cushman and his Outside the March Company

For his production of Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus by Gillian Clark.

Not content just to immerse the audience in his production in various locations of a site, director Mitchell Cushman set the story to unfold in two locations of the Factory Theatre simultaneously. Half the audience watched one part of the story inside the Factory Studio Theatre and the other half of the audience watched one part in the courtyard of the theatre. The cast shifted breathlessly between the two locations. Then, after intermission the audiences switched locations to see the other part.

Mitchell Cushman has a wild, vivid sense of theatre that keeps ramping up the daring needed to create a compelling work of theatre. With Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus he has surpassed even his wildest creations. I’m throbbing to see what he does next.

Eric Woolfe and Adrianna Prosser

These two lovely people took over the running and programming of The Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen Street East when founder Rosemary Doyle moved to Kingston to run The Grand Theatre there. The Red Sandcastle Theatre seats perhaps 50 people. Programming and running the space is daunting under the best of times. To do it after a pandemic shutdown takes the guts of a bandit and they have it in spades.

Added to that is the impish whimsy of the two. Not only did they produce the film-noir-weird Eric Woolfe play, Requiem for a Gumshoe, but after Adrianna Prosser warmly welcomed everyone to the space, checked their tickets etc. she sent the folks to their seats with a cheery, “I hope you survive it!” Guts!!

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

Tanisha Taitt

As the Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre, Tanisha Taitt has created many initiatives for young theatre makers to give them a safe space to explore their theatre ideas and develop them.

And Tanisha Taitt recognized the talent in Kanika Ambrose and her play our place. The play was submitted to the Cahoots Hot House initiative before Tanisha Taitt arrived at Cahoots, but Taitt recognized Kanika Ambrose’s talent and nurtured it. Taitt workshopped and developed the play. She recognized not only Kanika Ambrose’s talent but also the burgeoning talent of Sabryn Rock as a new director, spreading her talents from acting to include directing and hired Sabryn Rock to direct our place.

Glenn Sumi

Glenn Sumi and (the late, beloved) Jon Kaplan both covered theatre for NOW Magazine (Glenn also covered film, comedy, opera etc.). When Jon passed away in 2017 Glenn’s reviewing responsibilities increased. He is hugely knowledgeable about the arts and especially theatre. He is a thoughtful, fair-minded, constructively critical reviewer. His writing is spare but informative, nuanced and perceptive of what he is reviewing and compassionate.  It speaks volumes about Glenn’s character and devotion to covering the theatre that he has been working without being paid since April, 2022 as NOW Magazine limps towards extinction. Without missing a step, Glenn will continue to cover theatre with his same professionalism through his new website “So Sumi” Click here and subscribe:

They Go the Extra Mile To Get the Word Out Award.


There are fewer and fewer media outlets reviewing theatre on a regular basis. These publicists go the extra mile for their clients and for the people reviewing them. They reply to e-mail queries and requests immediately. They fill requests for tickets and interviews with a very quick turnaround. They make suggestions for ‘the perfect interview’ and are tenacious in getting us to say yes. If one screws up and forgets to confirm a press seat, they find that seat even if the show is sold out. If one is lucky, they will even correct your copy of typos and factual glitches (Thank you, Carrie).  

Randy Aldread (Mirvish)

Caitlin Core (The Grand, London, Ont.)

Milusha Copas (Soulpepper)

Sara Cotton (Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton)

Clare Hill (Young People’s Theatre)

Jennifer Lamb (Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.)

Lauren Naus (Factory Theatre)

Angela Poon (Dance at Harbourfront)

Carrie Sager (Crow’s Theatre)

Katie Saunoris (freelancer to various theatres)

Ann Swerdfager (Stratford Festival)

Sue Toth (Mirvish)

The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award

Michael Torontow

Michael Torontow is the Artistic Director of Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ontario. I have noted in the past the special ability of TIFT founder, Arkady Spivak to find talent in people and nurture it. One such person is Michael Torontow. He began as an actor in musical theatre (The Music Man etc.). Spivak saw the talents of a director in Michael Torontow and had him direct Into the Woods as his first foray into directing—a huge challenge. Michael Torontow displayed a gift for directing that piece and digging deep into it to illuminate its beauty. This year he guided and oversaw the creation of a three-part piece entitled Written in Blood that examined the story of “Dracula” over a day in Barrie, Ont. at various locations in the city. A stunning accomplishment. And if that wasn’t enough, Michael Torontow also starred in TIFT’s Toronto production of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He was both terrifying and heartbreaking.

The One(s) to Watch Award

Kanika Ambrose

Kanika Ambrose is a playwright, librettist, actor and theatre creator. Her work has been seen at the Paprika Festival, Toronto Fringe and SummerWorks among others. Her play our place was nurtured, workshopped and dramaturged at Cahoots by Tanisha Taitt, the Artistic Director. It’s about two Black women who are working in Toronto illegally to send money back to their families. It’s a song to friendship and resolve and a dart at the immigration system.  It had a production co-produced by Cahoots and Theatre Passe Muraille that showed Kanika Ambrose imagination with story, compassion for her characters, and a facility with language that is muscular and compelling.

Liam Donovan

Liam Donovan is the creator of the Lights Up Toronto blog that reviews Toronto theatre in a provocative, informed way. He is an undergrad at the University of Toronto studying Drama and English. His writing and opinions are smart, compact and succinct. He describes his reviews as: “Thoughtful, low stakes reflections on high stakes Toronto theatre.”

There have been a few valiant efforts to provide workshops for developing theatre reviewers, focusing on a young, diverse cohort—The Fringe, Generator, University of Toronto. But it seems only Liam Donovan has taken up the challenge of this initiative (he did the Young Critics Workshops offered by The Fringe) and started his own blog to regularly post theatre reviews. Bravo to him. Check him out.

Breton Lalama

Breton is a queer, trans non-binary actor originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia where they performed in The Rocky Horror Show, Fully Committed and Pleasureville. They have performed in the North American tour of Hair, and Orlando at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Their work as Oswald and others in King Lear, Olena and Oswald in Queen Goneril and Buddy, Owl, Buttercup and Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland displays a breadth of talent and ability that is always compelling and true.

Sabryn Rock

Sabryn Rock is a very gifted actor with a solid career of creating characters that are mesmerizing in their intelligence, detail and rigor. She is now spreading her talents to directing. Her first foray was directing our place by Kanika Ambrose. Sabryn Rock displayed the same intellectual rigor and creativity in her direction. She realized the play’s story and intension. Her sense of vision is clear, precise and confident. She then directed a reading of Sara Farb’s recent play Love Us Most and again the result was deeply layered and nuanced. I look forward to whatever Sabryn Rock has planned as a director (and of course as an actor).  

The Boootiful Thanks for the Fractured Tales Award

Ross Petty

After more than 25 years of providing whacky, funny, fractured tales for families at the holidays in December, Ross Petty, the Maestro of Mayhem, is flashing his mischievous smile at the audience for the last time, daring them to boo him, and retiring. His last show was Peter’s Last Flight. For this special show Ross Petty played Captain Hook one last time.

Families of several generations learned about perfect timing of audience participation when they hurled their loud boos at him, on cue. He smiled wider. They booed louder. It was a perfect union. It was great fun. A lovely gift for more than 25 years. Best of luck in all you boo, er, do, Mr. Petty. Happy retirement.


The Compellingly Indecent Way To Retire Award


Produced by Studio 180 and presented by Mirvish Productions.

Joel Greenberg is the founding Artistic Director of Studio 180. He has directed many of its productions, the last one being Indecent by Paula Vogel, which was part of the Off-Mirvish 2022 season. Joel Greenberg retires at the end of the year as Artistic Director.  

Indecent is a story of tender but ‘forbidden’ love, racism and a keen belief in the power of art. Joel Greenberg brought his usual sensitivity, intelligence and perceptive theatrical eye to the production. The production was rich in theatricality, simplicity and squeezed the heart. Joel has provided a solid grounding for Studio 180 so it can continue producing challenging theatre, into the future.

The Secrets are Hiding in the Corners Award

Uncle Vanya

Produced by Crow’s Theatre

This terrific production was directed with tremendous style, intelligence and thought by Chris Abraham, Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre. Often scenes were played out in corners where characters were secretive; hiding information, but pricking the audience’s curiosity; sometimes scenes were deliberately obstructed to better focus where we should be looking. A beautiful evocative, wonderfully acted production that realized the beating heart of the play and the heartache of the characters.  

Ignore the Homeless or Troubled Person at Your Peril Award

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Produced by Talk Is Free Theatre

Thrilling. Every single second of this dark, haunting musical is realized in Mitchell Cushman’s deeply imagined direction for Talk Is Free Theatre in a Toronto production. We follow the sublime cast as they scurry through the many rooms on three floors of the Neighbourhood Food Hub (a former church).

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of Stephen Sondheim’s darkest, most compelling musicals. It’s about those troubled people we pass on the street without ‘seeing’ them. What Mitchell Cushman and his gifted cast have done in this glorious production is make us look, consider and pay attention.

Make Every Piece of Art Count Before You Send It Into Space Award.

The Golden Record

Produced by Soulpepper

Mike Ross, the Musical Director for Soulpepper, re-created “The Golden Record” a time capsule of music, images, art and thoughts, that was sent into space with The Voyager Space Ship in 1977. With his wonderful collaborating cast, they re-imagined the music on the Golden Record, offered commentary and spoke through dance. The evening was more than “just” a concert. It was an evening full of exquisite artistry from a group of musicians with music pouring out of their fingertips. It was a stunning, smart, thoughtful show that would change the way we listen to music, songs, dance and how we see the world.  Every single person involved is an artist of the first order.

A Good Story Bears Repeating Award

The Drawer Boy

Produced at the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

The Drawer Boy is Michael Healey’s beautiful classic play is about friendship, hiding a painful secret and kindness.  Director Gil Garratt and his sterling cast of Jonathan Goad as Morgan, Randy Hughson as Angus and Cameron Laurie as Miles, go deeper into the emotional punch of the play and raise the stakes between Morgan and Angus. There is so much depth in these performances and in the production as directed by Gil Garratt. Garratt directs with such subtlety and care. What I got from this production was not just a play of a profound friendship, but one of heart-squeezing kindness.

It Creeps Up On You and is a Gut-Punch That Leaves You Winded Award

Girls & Boys

Produced by Here For Now Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Dennis Kelly, with an astonishing performance by Fiona Mongillo and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson. Here for Now Theatre, the scrappy little company in Stratford, Ont. has produced bracing, compelling theatre since it began producing this summer festival in Stratford, Ont. Girls & Boys is one of the best they have done, and they have done some pretty fine work. It’s about a confident, charming woman telling us the harrowing story of how her marriage and her life unravelled, slowly and irrevocably. At the centre of it was Fiona Mongillo giving one of the most composed, harrowing performances you will see in a long time.  Gripping in every single way.

Gleaming with Humanity Award

Gem of the Ocean

Produced by the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

August Wilson writes of the Black experience in America, of migration, slavery, forced separation from loved ones, love and respect for ones’ fellows and generally kindness. It’s 1904. We are in Pittsburgh’s Hill District—August Wilson’s home town and neighbourhood—1839 Wylie Ave. to be exact. This is where Aunt Ester Tyler lives. She is 285 years old. She is the revered matriarch of the neighbourhood. She is also the emotional, spiritual and historical center of the play and the production. She is the conduit for all the characters in the play to find their lost souls, their connection to their roots and their connection to their collected history, as once enslaved African-Americans. Each character has a deep story.

Philip Akin directed this stunning play and production with a sure, sensitive hand. The performances were guided by Akin’s intellectual rigor, his attention to the smallest detail and to the beating heart of the play.  

We Don’t Have to Explain Our Customs to You Award

Death and the King’s Horseman

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

The Stratford Festival production of Death and the King’s Horseman was bristling with drama, poetry, ceremony, tradition and racism.

Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka takes place in Nigeria during WWII when it was under British colonial rule. A Yoruba King has died the month before. The tradition dictates that the King’s Horseman is required to accompany the King into the afterlife. That means the Horseman has to commit suicide. But this sacred ritual is interrupted when the ruling British overseers stop the tradition—they think it barbaric– resulting in an unforeseen tragedy.

Rather than look at the play from ‘our’ culture and point of view, Death and the King’s Horseman makes us look at it fresh, anew, from the Nigerian point of view. Their people, culture and traditions were being ‘managed’ by the colonizing British and the Nigerian’s were standing up and ‘pushing’ back to protect their culture.

Director Tawiah M’Carthy has directed a production full of the music, drama, throbbing beat and heart of the play. His direction is assured, confident, all embracing of the audience and carefully measured for the maximum effect.

The Hope, Resolve and Tenacity Award

Produced by the Stratford, Festival


1939 is a gently pointed play in which Indigenous voices give Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well an Indigenous interpretation.

1939 only touches on the war looming in Europe. The bigger issue for co-writers Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan is looking at the Indigenous students in a residential school and finding a positive way of illuminating their hope, resolve, tenacity and embrace of a Shakespeare play to speak for them and help them find their true voice. Jani Lauzon has directed the play with a quiet vision and a keen way of establishing relationships. The play has a lot to say that is important to hear. The message is quietly resounding and clear.

Is That a Man or a Puppet? Award

Produced by Plexus Polaire, co-presented with Why Not Theatre at Harbourfront.

Moby Dick

Yngvild Aspeli is the director, creator and Artistic Director of Plexus Polaire, a French-Norwegian company. Seven actors bring 50 puppets ‘to life’ to tell the story of Captain Ahab and how he was obsessed in hunting a giant white whale named Moby Dick.

The visual realization of this compelling story with these life-sized and life-like puppets, the artistry of the performers and puppets and director Yngvild Aspeli’s keen imagination, make Moby Dick one of the theatrical highlights of the year.