Live and in person at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until November 12, 2023.

Presented by David Mirvish and John Sachs for Eclipse Live and Sony Music.

Music by Roy Orbison

Bood by David West Read

Directed  by Luke Sheppard

Choreographed by Fabian Aloise

Set by Arnulfo Maldonado

Costumes by Fay Fullerton

Lighting by Howard Hudson

Sound by Tom Marshall

Video design by George Reeve

Cast: Leon Craig

Alma Cuervo

Lena Hall

Manuel Pacific

Sian Reese-Williams

Nasim Ramírez

Noël Sullivan

Oliver Tompsett

Richard Trinder

Writer David West Read has written the book of In Dreams with depth, smarts and heart. Using the music of Roy Orbison to advance the story and flesh our characters, is inspired. This is one of the tightest most thought provoking ‘juke-box’ musicals around. Moving and joyful.

The Story. Kenna James is living the carefree life of a country-rock and roll singer who always seems on the road. She gets some startling news from her doctor and we assume it’s bad. She sees an ad for a family run restaurant in New Mexico that specializes in Mexican food and memorials to commemorate the dead.  Kenna wants one of those—a memorial for herself–and she plans on inviting bandmates of her former rock group, Jane and Donovan, but not the drummer, Ramsey, because they had a relationship and they broke up. And Kenna will also attend her memorial.  Her bad health isn’t a spoiler. We learn this in the first 10 minutes and she spends the rest of the show keeping the bad news from her friends. Kenna lost track of her band-mates when they broke up and this will give her a chance to connect and make amends before the end.

The people who own the restaurant also have their issues. The place is run by Oscar, his pregnant wife Nicole and Oscar’s grandmother, Ana Sofia. Oscar is still mourning the death of his parents. He does not feel able to confide in Nicole. Ana Sofia proves to be a center of wisdom and sense when she secretly invites Ramsey as well. If Kenna is going to make amends with her friends, it should be all of her friends.

The Production. Writer David West Read has worked his wonders again. His previous musical hit was & Juliet, a re-imagining of what might have happened to Juliet (as in Romeo and Juliet) had she lived, set to established music. With In Dreams David West Read has created a story of a country-rock singer who has to face her life when she thinks it might be ending and reconnect with the relationships that she has neglected.  The story is connected with the stunning music of Roy Orbison. Roy Orbison’s music is full of longing, dreaming, wondering, loving, and regretting. Songs such as “Crying”, “It’s Over”, “Love Hurts” “In Dreams” (both in English and Spanish) all have such resonance in telling the story and fleshing out character that their meshing in the story is seamless.  David West Read’s script is funny, moving and goes right to the heart of these characters.  

Luke Sheppard directs In Dreams (as he did with & Juliet) creating a dynamic duo with David West Read. Luke Sheppard’s direction is economical, never flashy and always serves the piece and the characters. Relationships are beautifully established.

Front and center in this sparkling production is Kenna James, played with full-throated, rocking energy by Lena Hall. She appears before the stage curtain ready to rock. There is swagger and attitude in her first appearance. When Kenna gets a call from her doctor with the bad news, that thing at the back of her mind, her health, now adds a touch of regret and vulnerability. She also has anger when Ramsey shows up—anger at him for their breakup and for the fact that he was even secretly invited. Lena Hall illuminates all these emotions.

Oliver Tompsett plays Ramsey with kinetic energy and a rousing voice. There is chemistry between Ramsey and Kenna because of the powerful performances of Oliver Tompsett and Lena Hall.

Alma Cuervo plays Ana Sofia with wisdom and a glint of mischief. What a privilege it is to see her on a stage. Her singing and interpretation of “Blue Bayou” will make you sit up and pay a new kind of attention to a song you thought you knew.

Manuel Pacific play Oscar with a quiet sadness. It’s a lovely performance of a man who is lost and can’t find his way to confide in his wife. Nasim Ramírez as Nicole is a strong presence, a wise partner who knows how to help her husband. The whole cast is very strong and play characters that are full bodied and surprising.

Set designer Arnulfo Maldonado has created the restaurant that is a mix of garish with neon signs that announce the menu and commemorative of the past souls that have been remembered. Along a shelf at the top of a wall are pictures and other memorabilia of those who have passed away.

In Dreams is a celebration of life, dreams, relationships and friends. And you will probably want to reacquaint yourself with all the music of Roy Orbison once you’ve heard some of it here.

Presented by David Mirvish and John Sachs for Eclipse Live and Sony Music.

Plays until Nov. 12, 2023.

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


Heads Up for the Week of Oct. 1 to Oct. 8 and beyond.

Fall for Dance North Festival

Oct 1-Oct. 7, 2023.

For FFDN tickets and information, visit:

Swan Song
Oct. 3: 7:30pm at Meridian Hall (1 Front St. East)
In partnership with The National Ballet of Canada

Audience members will enjoy a sneak preview of the immersive new CBC documentary series, as well as an artist chat with Karen Kain, a group of National Ballet dancers featured in the series, and members of the series’ creative team, plus a live performance of excerpts from Swan Lake.

HEARTBEATS: Signature Programme 1
Oct. 4 & 5: 7:30pm at Meridian Hall (1 Front St. East)
In partnership with TO Live

Through four distinct works, the diverse choreographic voices of HEARTBEATS: Signature Programme 1 approach themes of love and human connection from different angles, perspectives and dance forms. Featuring:

Mascara by Pulga Muchochoma (Toronto) – with live music
Bliss by Johan Inger (Sweden), performed by Gibney Company (New York)
I think we should start over by Jamaal Burkmar (UK), performed by Candoco (London)
Heart Drive by Marne & Imre Van Opstal (The Netherlands), performed by Ballet BC (Vancouver)

Oct. 5-7: 10pm at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance (304 Parliament St)
Co-presented and produced by Citadel + Compagnie

Programmed by distinguished dance artists Penny Couchie, Christine Friday and Dedra McDermott, the 2023 edition of Night/Shift celebrates the many dance forms explored and practiced by Ontario-based movement makers. Featuring:

Thursday Shift (Oct. 5)
A History of Silencing Dance by Alireza Keymanesh
“Tarantos” – Alma de Mujeres by Maria Serrano
SEED by Shameka Blake

Friday Shift (Oct. 6)
Polyrhythms by Cori Giannotta
V.A.T.O. by Fer Camacho – Collective of Scenic Exchange
Experiences Of A Moment by Rumi Jeraj

Saturday Shift (Oct. 7)
Y3N Kw33 by Baffour Kwasi Obeng – Adjei
Act II by MillO Dance Projects
Seeker by Serwaa Daley

UNBOWED: Signature Programme 2
Oct. 6 & 7: 7:30pm at Meridian Hall (1 Front St. East)
In partnership with TO Live

UNBOWED: Signature Programme 2 showcases today’s most promising international contemporary voices and the brave steps they are taking in the dance world. This is a journey of dance that encompasses the spirit of unwavering resistance, tireless love, and promise of evolution through activism and vigour. Featuring:

Light-Print by Jesse Obremski (USA, Gibney Company artist), performed by TMU School of Performance (Toronto)

Oh Courage! By Sonya Tayeh (USA), performed by Gibney Company (New York), with live music by The Bengsons

My Mother’s Son by Mthuthuzeli November (Zolani), performed by Mthuthuzeli & Siphesihle November (Zolani)

NINA: By Whatever Means by Mthuthuzeli November (Zolani), performed by Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black (London)

Oct. 1- 7, 2023.


At Fort York, Toronto.

The History of Fort York and the War of 1812 from the point of view of those obscured in the history books.

Absolutely brilliant. Truly.

Here’s my review and then buy tickets.

The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time

Plays until Oct. 15, 2023.

At Tarragon Theatre.

Worth your time: my review:


Review: SIX

by Lynn on September 29, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Feb. 11, 2024.

Presented by David Mirvish, Kenny Wax, Wendy and Andy Barnes, George Stiles and Kevin McCollum, in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Written, composed and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss

Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage

Choreographer, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille

Scenic design by Emma Bailey

Costumes by Gabriella Slade

Sound by Paul Gatehouse

Lighting by Tim Deiling

Cast: Elysia Criz

Krystal Hernández

Maggie Lacasse

Lauren Mariasoosay

Julia Pulo

Jaz Robinson

Musicians: Elizabeth Baird (conductor/keyboards)

Allyson Macivor (drums)

Kia Rose (Guitars)

Aretha Tillotson (Bass)

Six is a whip-smart, creative, wily, joyous pop-rock musical about the six wives of Henry VIII and who suffered the most being married to the guy. Six is a ten!

In case you’re a bit rusty on British history (herstory?), creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss don’t leave you in suspense about what happened to the six wives of Henry VIII. When the six confident, alluring women make their entrance in the dazzle of Tim Deiling’s light, we hear: “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived” we know.

What’s needed is the backstory of their stories so for context and in matrimonial order: Catherine of Aragon (Divorced), Anne Boleyn (Beheaded), Jane Seymour (Died), Anna of Cleves (Divorced), Katherine Howard (Beheaded), Catherine Parr (Survived).

Initially the premise is to see which wife was more important to Henry, but then with quick discussion it was decided there would be a contest to see which wife suffered the most being married to the guy. And it would take the form of a rock concert with each wife presenting her case. The (metaphoric) gauntlet dropped. No hold is barred. Each wife uses every sexually charged, full-throated moment to plead her case against her cohort of wives.  

Is it Catherine of Aragon, a statuesque and regal Jaz Robinson because she was married to the guy for 24 years but was humiliated when he threw her over for Anne Boleyn, a pert and coy Julia Pulo?  Do you win points if you die in childbirth, as Jane Seymour did, played by Maggie Lacasse, with a quiet demure quality. What if you don’t look as good in real life as you do in your painting as Anna of Cleves did? As Anna, Krystal Hernández makes a strong case for a bit of ‘touch up’ never mind that the painter is Holbein. Or what if you you have your head chopped off as Anne Boleyn (Julia Pulo) and Katherine Howard who never met a man she didn’t like, played with lusty exuberance Elysia Cruz by. And yes, even if you survived as Catherine Parr did, played with careful, wily smarts by Lauren Mariasoosay, that has to count for something. Do you know what Henry VIII looked like by then, never mind that, the smell of the man!

In the end that point is dropped. They are women taken on their own terms and not in the context of who they all married. And, no, Henry doesn’t make an entrance. I have a feeling it would not go too well for him.

Co-directors Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage create a relentless, breathless pace over Emma Bailey’s glittery, multi-leveled set.  Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is disco driven and yet distinguishes each Queen beautifully. Gabriella Slade’s costumes are some form of formfitting bustier or skinny pants or short skirts. Tim Deiling’s lighting is worthy of any rock-concert that flashes and dazzles. Paul Gatehouse has created the best sound I have ever heard in a musical in a long time. Each lyric is crystal clear. And you also actually hear the music.

The music and songs by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are dandy. They establish who these women are in their own individual way and the lyrics for each are brilliant. Truly.

There are 10 songs (this includes a mega-mix) in this 80-minute show and each queen has her moment to shine and make us laugh and tell her truth. Just two examples:  Catherine of Aragon:

“My name is Catherine of Aragon

Was married 24 years. I’m a paragon

Of royalty, my loyalty is to the Vatican

So if you try to dump me you won’t try that again…”

Or this cheeky song for Anne Boleyn:

“I’m that Boleyn girl, and I’m up next

See, I broke England from the Church, yeah I’m that sexy

Why did I lose my head?

Well my sleeves may be green, but my lipstick’s red…”

Which references the historical novel “That Other Boleyn Girl” by Phillipa Gregory.

And while it’s not proven that Henry VIII wrote “Greensleeves” for Anne Boleyn, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss don’t miss a change to reference that “my sleeves may be green…” 

With only 80 minutes it’s hard for each woman to actually make an impression and be distinctive after the fact. But during the show each wonderful performer establishes her individuality. Each singer/actress/dancer is terrific. They are all on stage for the whole show. The energy is breathless. And a shout out to the Canadians in the cast: Jaz Robinson, Julia Pulo, Maggie Lacasse, Elysia Cruz.  Even the band is made up of talented women.

The creators wanted to show the individuality of these women without the context of who they were married to. They wanted to show the parallels between these six women and women of today, 500 years later. They wanted to illuminate women’s stories and how hard it is to tell them, then and now. And they wanted to have fun. And they all succeeded. Loved it.

Presented by David Mirvish, Kenny Wax, Wendy and Andy Barnes, George Stiles and Kevin McCollum, in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Plays until February, 11, 2024.

Running time: 80 minutes.


Live and in person at the Thousand Island Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont. Plays until Oct. 1.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch

Directed by Krista Jackson

Set and costumes by Michelle Bohn

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Sara Jarvie-Clark

Cast: Jonas Chernick

Romi Shraiter

Hannah Moscovitch focuses on sex and power in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes but with her usual ability to turn matters on its ear when we least expect it.

The Story. It’s 2014. Jon is an author and a university professor. He’s 42, cynical about the world perhaps because he’s separated from his third wife and despondent because yet another relationship has failed. But then he sees Annie whom he describes as “a girl in a red coat.” Annie is 19 years old and in one of Jon’s undergraduate English courses.  (Does it speak volumes about Jon, that in 2014 Jon would use the un PC word “girl” to describe a young woman of 19?)  Her apartment is down the street from Jon’s house. He sees her often either by coincidence or design. They have a sexual relationship until he breaks it off. It looks like a typical story of older man in a powerful position and an adoring younger woman. But this is Hannah Moscovitch writing and nothing is typical. She has said that she has written the play from Jon’s point of view.

 The Production. Michelle Bohn has designed the set and the costumes and they are both arresting.  At the top of a set of wide steps is a large wood desk and chair. To one side is a huge tower of books that go up to the flies. This can be either Jon’s office in a university (hence the wide stairs suggesting a large building) or the stairs to his house. There are crossing paths made of large slabs of concrete suggesting the same thing—paths on a campus or leading to his house. Inside the paths are swaths of well mowed grass (and a sign that tells us to keep off the grass).

There are three stand microphones; on either side of audience left and right and then at one of the landings of the stairs, stage left.

A young woman in a red coat stands in front of one of the microphones, tilts her head a bit and says in a lilting, almost teasing voice: “One..”, and the title of this section. This is Annie played with confidence and equal measures of coyness and flirtatiousness by Romi Shraiter. There will be eleven sections (I believe) to the play and Annie introduces each section with that tilt of the head and that voice that controls everything.

Jon (Jonas Chernick) enters, casually dressed in shirt, black pants and shoes.  He is personable, a mass of insecurities and doubts about his latest (third) marriage to fail. He is separated from his wife. She moved into the condo they bought as an income investment. The play is told from his point of view, through his voice. He talks about his naïve students who sometimes don’t get his jokes; his clear observations of life around him, his failed third marriage—his unfinished novel referred to as his ‘lumberjack novel’ and a ‘girl in a red coat’ he saw in his dreams? his imagination? and by whom he is captivated. As Jon, Jonas Chernick is a mass of tics, scratchings at his cheek to suggest his awkwardness, pauses, and nuance. It’s a masterful performance of a man unhappy with himself and his life, but strangely confident because of his position. Jon’s ‘dialogue’ here is meticulous, literary, often esoteric and erudite. It is less like ‘speech’ and more like commentary and discourse one finds in a novel.  Is this Jon preparing to write a novel about his life when the ‘girl in the red coat’ came into it?

It turns out the ‘girl in the red coat’, Annie as we know, is in Jon’s undergrad course, lives down the street from his house, is a huge fan of his work and seems to be as captivated by Jon as he is by her. She keeps turning up at his house and his office, the first time when she seems to have locked herself out of her apartment. She scraped her arm and leg trying to get into a window, causing her to bleed. She came to Jon’s house for first aid. He carefully cleaned and bandaged her arm and leg, not wanting to get to close, or be suggestive. 

Jon in turn sits on his porch so that he looks in her window as he drinks his coffee. He learns that she is a top student and an excellent writer. Jon is wary of younger women students and their older professors and the temptations. At one point Jon asks Annie pointedly if she was coming on to him. Flirting with him. As Annie, Romi Shraiter does not make the first move. Jon does, almost turning away and then kissing her. She returns the kiss with passion and all his other advances  

It’s a short hop, skip and jump before Annie and Jon are in each other’s arms, in his bed and then hotel rooms. He tells her this is wrong, just before they clinch again. We are led to believe that common sense is overcome by lust and desire—the age difference is mentioned a few times, as is the fact that he is her professor.

Michelle Bohn’s costumes for Annie are masterful. The red coat is usually belted up. When the coat is off, Annie is dressed in a skirt (not too short) and a blouse that is buttoned up fully, or a sweater that is not seductive. By the way she dresses, Annie is almost chaste, not a woman who wants to be seductive. But her underwear is another matter. Black push-up bra and a thong. Much as one looks at Jon as the predator, it’s Annie who seems to be in control here.

Krista Jackson has directed this production with wonderful nuance and detail. She has established that the physicality between the two characters is raw, urgent and almost desperate. One is keenly aware of the work of Anita Nittoly, the intimacy director. How each character touches the other is beautifully established, but we are aware that this play is written from Jon’s point of view.

As Annie, Romi Shraiter is quiet, shy, watchful and just ‘there’, at Jon’s door to his house or office. She is not so much bewitched by this man, as much as she is determined to have him. She is keenly aware of her effect over him—she knows that he sits on his porch so he can look in her window. Moscovitch does not write Annie as a simpering school girl with dreams of entering Jon’s life for longer than the affair. Romi Shraiter plays her with a subtle knowing maturity—this is no ‘innocent girl.’

The chemistry between Jonas Chernick and Romi Shraiter inhabits their characters that is so ‘real. There’s a breathlessness with Jon and fearless physicality with Annie.

Comment.  Ok, older, successful professor has an affair with a younger, ‘impressionable’ student. We’ve seen this before, often. The play is about power, but Hannah Moscovitch has us wondering whose power is it? 

Director Krista Jackson has a wonderful director’s note: She says that Hannah Moscovitch’s play “…is a complex examination of need and desire within the power dynamics of an affair between a student and professor.” Look at that construction there…..’between a student and professor.’ This suggests to me that Annie is the aggressor.

Moscovitch tries to turn the last scene on its head….which I can’t talk about without giving it away. Let me just say, it’s both fascinating and troubling. The play is written from Jon’s point of view, but Annie has the last word, and it’s eye-popping.  Annie introduces something into the narrative that comes from nowhere and has not been established enough.  Her last speech also solidifies Annie’s power, but it’s done in a way that is so quick and brutal, it seems to come from nowhere. So, while Jon looks confused at the end by what has happened to him, the scene is so quick and subtle, it’s not really earned. I have to wonder ‘what’s the point here?’ Still, I love chewing over this. The play is fascinating.

Thousand Islands Playhouse presents:

Plays until Oct. 1, 2023.

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Oct. 15, 2023.

A Tarragon Theatre/NAC presentation of the NAC/Neptune Theatre Production.

Written and performed by Walter Borden

Director, Peter Hinton-Davis

Set, costume, lighting and projection design, Andy Moro

Sound design and composer, Adrienne Danrich O’Neill

Poetic, raw and glistening with life and imagination.

As the audience settles in their seats, talking, greeting people across the theatre, a man slowly enters and stands at the top of the cross aisle. He wears a cap of a porter it looks like? Part of a uniform of a service provider?  Two bags are slung over his shoulder. He carries a paper cup of coffee in one hand and an old-fashioned lunch bucket in the other. He slowly walks along the cross aisle, down the far aisle, up the stairs leading to the backstage area, and he stops, regards the now quiet audience, takes a swig of his coffee and nods to the audience and disappears behind the door leading to backstage.

Actor, playwright, educator, poet, Walter Borden has arrived as one of the ten characters he will play in this challenging, bracing, poetic evening depicting the life, challenges and resilience of a  Black person and the human spirit.

After this, the opening night remarks are made by Artistic Director Mike Payette and Andrea Vagianos, Managing Director of the Tarragon. (I wish the remarks were made first and then Walter Borden would enter so that his entrance would have been seamless.)

Walter Borden enters the stage from the house right wings, and walks into a little ‘office’? upstage where he turns on a radio that plays opera. A soprano is singing an aria. Borden listens intently, in a revery. He takes a pile of books carefully out of one of the bags on his shoulder. They are books dealing with the Black experience. He gives the title of one and then says with affection, “Jimmy Baldwin.” He opens the lunch pail and takes out a jar of something. Once settled, he sits on a stoop and tells us that he is addressing those in ‘the diaspora’, people who are Black. As specific as Walter Borden is with whom this is for, others will find resonance to their own lives in his exquisite storytelling.

He has words of praise for hardworking women, no matter the job, in their efforts to raise their children. He has words of scorn for those bling-wearing rockers who view women as property and ‘ho’s’. His language, always poetic and complex, is blistering when taking these mono-syllabic men to task and putting in perspective the sainted women who raised and protected them.

Borden depicts a woman who uses sex to make her living when she was treated badly by a welfare officer. The woman realized that her income was ‘between her legs’. The story is funny, bitter-sweet, vivid in the telling and empathetic. He talks of the woman’s child who she cherished and loved, and who grew up to be successful in her job. The irony of the job and the story is wonderful.

He talks of being gay at a time and place that was not understanding. The hazards and dangers of wearing a pink shirt.

Walter Borden has been writing this autobiographical story in various iterations since 1986 where the original title was Tightrope Time Ain’t Nuthin’ More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Your Twilight & Your Dawn. For the past four years he has been working with director, Peter Hinton-Davis to hone, refine and distil the story, but still keep its vivid poetic world. I can’t think of another director who illuminates and thinks in such poetic images as Peter Hinton-Davis.

This production is a perfect melding of Andy Moro’s set, costume, lighting and projection design, the ethereal sound and music of Adrienne Danrich O’Neill and Peter Hinton-Davis’s meticulous direction that always serves the piece. Magic appears subtly as a fur coat is put on Walter Borden as miraculously as if it’s floating in air. Later it’s taken off and another coat is put on, again, as if by magic. It’s the world of conjuring. Walter Borden navigates that world with determination and daring. I’m impressed at how often Borden gets down on all fours, or sits on a low step. He’s a person in his senior years and his dexterity is amazing.

Walter Borden speaks and thinks in poetic expression. The language is complex, esoteric, biblical, mystical, mischievous and intoxicating. You want to hear each line and its message again, just to revel in the language and sound of Borden’s crisp enunciation so we don’t miss one word.

In a kind of summation, Walter Borden says, “I’m just a Black man, talking.” Irony again.  The Epistle of Tightrope Time is so much more.

A Tarragon Theatre/NAC presentation of the NAC/Neptune Theatre Production.

Plays until Oct. 15, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Review: SEA WALL

by Lynn on September 26, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont. Playing until Oct. 8, 2023. Bright Young Things & Quiet Things Creative in Association with One Four One Collective presents:

Written by Simon Stephens

Directed by Belinda Cornish

Starring Jamie Cavanagh.

The set is simple in Simon Stephens’ complex, emotional play. There is a suitcase on the floor, a ladder and a table with a kettle, a mug and a container of tea bags.

Alex (Jamie Cavanagh) arrives, looks carefully around the space, pauses, thinks. He turns on the kettle. He puts a tea bag in the mug. He’s a photographer. He tells us of his great love for his wife, Helen. He’s besotted by her. He even likes his father-in-law, Arthur a ex-military man. They visit him in the South of France where he has a house. Alex and Helen have a daughter, Lucy, who they adore. The three of them begin to fly to the South of France, as the long drive might be hard on their young daughter.

On one trip Arthur took Alex to the sea wall. It was a place to swim, but Alex said that the drop down to the sea floor was sudden and unexpected. Alex thought it would slope down, and not plunge down. The surprises of life when your least expect it.

Actor Jamie Cavanagh plays Alex with an easy grace, a dazzling smile when talking of his wife and daughter. But something is odd. Jamie Cavanagh is not telegraphing in his acting that Alex is troubled, but something is distracting him. The kettle comes to the boil and Alex does nothing with it. He does not pour the water into the mug with the tea bag. He does not acknowledge the click of the kettle at all. It’s as if he is willfully focusing on telling us the story as engagingly as he can, until he tells us of the hole in his stomach. It’s as if he and we have suddenly fallen down into the depths of the sea wall when we least expect it. Something happened on a recent trip and it’s turned his whole life upside down. Startling, sudden, irrevocable.   

Playwright, Simon Stephens has written a beautifully constructed work of love, devotion, idyllic happiness and piercing observation about loss and sorrow. It’s almost lilting in its pace, as we are drawn further and further into the story, because Alex is so charming, and Jamie Cavanagh’s playing of him gently takes us in.  Director Belinda Cornish has directed this with scrupulous simplicity and attention. It’s tempting for the actor to indicate initially that something is wrong—that the euphoria of memory is twinged with a prescient knowledge of sorrow.  But Cavanagh does not fall into that trap, not does Belinda Cornish direct him there. We follow him every step of the way, until we plunge down into the depths.   

Sea Wall is a terrific piece of theatre.

Bright Young Things & Quiet Things Creative in Association with One Four One Collective presents:

Plays until Oct. 8, 2023.

Running Time: 1 hour.


Live and in person at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre A Groundwork Redux and Buddies in Bad Time Theatre Production in Association with Obsidian Theatre. Plays until Oct. 1, 2023.

Created, written and performed by daniel jelani ellis

Directed by d’bi.young anitafrika

Choreographer, Fairy J

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Sound by Stephon Smith

Lighting by Andre du Toit

As director-dramaturge d’bi.young anitafrika writes in her programme note: speaking of sneaking by daniel jelani ellis…it’s an homage to liberation, offering freedom to traverse the infinite spectrums of gender, sexuality, and class via a Black queer lens.” It’s a mashup of dance, poetry and pantomime.

Anansi, the Akan trickster god is manifest in the form of a lithe, agile spider, spinning and weaving its web, beguiling, mesmerizing and drawing us into its beautiful intricacies. daniel jelanie ellis is present as the audience fills in. He scurries, jumps, skitters, and mostly squats close to the ground to skitter, using choreographer, Fairy J’s compelling movement to create Anansi the spider, other creatures, spirits and characters, all with precise detail that differentiates between beings.   

daniel jelani ellis is a wonderful actor/performer who has created a character from Jamaica that exemplifies the dream of moving away to “foreign” (Canada) to reap its many benefits. He was first taken there by his grandmother. She moved back but he remained. He made his living doing menial jobs in a grocery store, doing on-line sex and other jobs. His family back home believed he was rich and kept asking for money and he felt obliged to help them even though he didn’t have the means.

daniel jelani ellis is an engaging, energetic, very funny actor who puts a lovely spin on the Jamaican patois and also clearly realizes the myth and the reality of living in the imagined glow of “foreign.”

The production under the meticulous direction of d’bi.young anitafrika shimmers with invention and creativity. Rachel Forbes has created an arresting spider web of spindles that shoot out from the central pod. There is also a costume that daniel jelani ellis wears with beautiful wings that suggests a spider. André du Toit’s evocative lighting compliments the whole production and Stephon Smith’s sound design is both other worldly and contemporary.

It’s a terrific production.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre A Groundwork Redux and Buddies in Bad Time Theatre Production in Association with Obsidian Theatre.

Plays until Oct. 1, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission) plus a talk-back



by Lynn on September 20, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Fort York, National Historical site, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Oct. 7, 2023.

Co-written by Ahmed Moneka and Nicky Lawrence

Directed Ahmed Moneka

Cast: Dillan Chiblow

Andrew Chown

Rudy Ray Kwaku

Nicky Lawrence

Cassel Miles

Tara Moneka (understudy for Ahmed Moneka)

Revelatory and life changing (and I’m not exaggerating).

Background. Ahmed Moneka and his writing partner Nicky Lawrence were invited by Toronto History Museums to expand on an earlier work they created inspired by the history of the War of 1812 centering on Fort York. The focus was to honour “the voices of Indigenous, Black S2LGBTQ+ and artists of colour and sharing stories obscured by conventional history books.”

As Ahmed Moneka and Nicky Lawrence say in their programme note: “As we discovered the multiple voices that helped shape this country, it struck us, that in the telling we consistently found it being told from only one perspective. This we realized must change; for us to know where we are going as a nation, we must tell the true story that reminds us how we became one in the beginning, one that includes us all.”

The Stories and the Production. As the co-writer’s eloquently put it, Spaciousness tells some of the stories “obscured by conventional history books.” It tells the stories of those considered ‘other.’ I love seeing/hearing stories by people who do not look like me, to learn another side of the narrative.

The play takes place at historic Fort York in Toronto’s downtown, on the other side of the paved and curved roller-blading-skate-boarding path under the Gardiner Expressway. You walk along a path to the end of the ‘welcome’ building, walk up several steps and land on a huge expanse (spaciousness?) of grassed grounds, on which are several historic buildings, all part of Fort York. There is a subtle, but constant, sound of bombs and cannons exploding. This is the background ‘noise’ of the fort. We should never forget what this place was for—defending the city in the War of 1812.

The audience gathers in a long room with chairs on either side of the length of it. There are about 40 people in the room. I have never seen such a diverse, multi-ethnic group like this in a ‘theatre’ before. I don’t recognize anyone who I have seen in my regular theatre going. The diversity is wonderful.  

As we settle the stage manager says there will be an understudy for the role of Survivor of Modern War. This part was to be played by Ahmed Moneka, the director and co-writer of Spaciousness, but for this occasion the understudy is Tara Moneka, Ahmed’s sister.

She wears a beautiful white ensemble. She says that she has experienced war in her home country of Iraq three times: when she was two years old, when she was 14 (when the Americans invaded) and when she was 18, civil war. What she doesn’t tell us (I looked it up) was that in Baghdad she was a celebrated singer who gave concerts. The military said to her family that if she did another concert the family would be arrested. As a result they fled to Turkey and then came to Canada as refugees. Ahmed Moneka was already in Canada and the family followed. Tara Moneka said that she became a Canadian citizen. We all applauded. It was very moving.

The audience is divided in two groups and each group is lead around the site into various buildings by a person holding a lamp to light the way. The pace is not rushed but there is walking and there are steps into and out of buildings. There is seating in each building for the audience. A scene is enacted by a character in each building.

I note that Tara Moneka alternated following the two groups around the space of the Fort, but did not enter the buildings. Her presence at the end of a group is like a constant reminder of the Survivor of Modern War, which she is.

We go from building to building watching scenes of people who were involved in the War of 1812. In the Gun Powder Magazine (that’s the name of the building) we hear mournful trumpet music coming from the other side of the wall of the building.  Private William Jones (Rudy Ray Kwaku) appears as if by magic. He is a young Black man in a soldier’s uniform who plays the bugle and writes his mother a letter full of poems and about the horrors of war. It’s a beautiful performance of innocent people caught up in war.

In another building a worried mother, Emma Jones, is played so movingly by Nicky Lawrence, who is dressed in historical garb, sings of freedom.  She frets about her son William, a sweet-faced young man who writes poetry and plays the bugle. But she hadn’t heard from him in six months and so wrote to his commander of his Black troupe asking if he knew where her son was. Connections are made in the individual stories.  

In another building, Private Samuel Keating (Andrew Chown) was sleeping in his bunk and woke with a start and jumps down from the bunk to tell us his story. He was from Dublin and enlisted with his father to fight with the British because they paid you to join and the money would help his mother and all his siblings. He didn’t even know where ‘upper Canada’ was when they set out across the ocean to fight.

Miskwaaki, also known as William Yellowhead (Dillan Chiblow), has his back to us, looking out a window when we enter. He is an imposing man in traditional Indigenous garb. When he turns his face is ‘painted’ with stripes of vegetable colouring. He was the chief of the Chippaweans  and leader of the Deer clan. Miskwaaki led his people in taking arms in defense of Upper Canada with the British because they said they would honour promises to his people. He was thoughtful and compelling.  He wanted to give his people “Mno Bimaadiziwin (A good life) Miskwaaki wondered if the British would keep their promise. The irony of the question was palpable.

The group then goes to the farthest building in the evening, and enters a room that looks like a formal dining room. A long table is beautifully set for about 10 people or so. A Black man enters, fastidiously dressed in pants, vest, shirt cravat/tie, spats and gleaming shined black shoes.

This is Richard Pierpoint (Cassel Miles). When Richard Pierpoint was 16 years old, he was sold into slavery from what is now Senegal. He was eventually ‘bought’ by British officer name Pierpoint (given his name) and trained to be Pierpoint’s valet.  When Richard Pierpoint was much older he wanted to go back to Senegal where he was from, but was denied. He thought he might be granted his wish because he prospered and created a Black troupe of soldiers who fought in the war. He talked of getting a letter from a grieving mother wanting to know where her son Will was. Pierpoint remembered Will but also knew he disappeared. (Not deserted) but disappeared. The stories comes full circle in a way.

There is a courtliness to Cassel Miles’ playing of Richard Pierpoint. I mention the shined shoes. I know Mr. Miles’ work from seeing him as Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy last year. Hoke was a Black man applying for the job of chauffeur to Miss Daisy, an irascible Southern woman. Hoke’s suit was ill-fitting (it was a hand-me-down from someone else), the tie was old but his shoes were gleaming because Cassel Miles shined them every performance. There was pride in Hoke as a human being because of the way Cassel Miles played him. And that care and pride was in the small detail of the shined shoes. The same care went into Richard Pierpoint: fastidious, careful and shined shoes to a dazzling sheen.

Then we all went back to the original building. We sat in the seats. The lights went out and our Tara Moneka, the Survivor of Modern War, appears holding a lit lamp. “Can you see me?” she asks in the glow of the lamp. We say yes. She asks if we can see the person next to us. We can’t. It’s too dark. Then on cue, a curtain is pulled across one end of the room to reveal the various characters we have seen, all holding a lamp up to their face. This adds more light to the room.

Tara Moneka notes that the audience is very diverse–true. She says that was how the country was formed–by all these different stories. And she told us to hold the lamp up and share the light and value the diversity, inclusion and equity. That audience embodied that idea 100%. Spaciousness might be telling the stories of ‘those obscured by conventional history books’ but it invites and embraces everybody to listen, appreciate and consider.

I thought the message was so hopeful. For me the show was revelatory. I was euphoric at its message, possibilities and the wonderful way it was told,  as I walked across the grass and down the stairs to my car. But I was also overcome with the emotion of it all, the stories of selflessness and sacrifice and I wept all the way home.

When you least expect it, a theatrical miracle.

Toronto History Museums presents:

Plays until Oct. 7, 2023.

Running Time: 90 minutes (site specific-no intermission).


Live and in person at Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education (PACE), 201 McDonnel Street, Peterborough, Ont. Presented by Theatre Direct, 4th Line Theatre Special Event, Prairie Fire and Peterborough Museum and Archives. Plays until Sept. 23, 2023.

Written by Madeleine Brown

Directed by Aaron Jan

Set and Costumes by Melanie McNeill

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound by Uri Livne-Bar

Cast: Lion Addison

Jalen Brink

Edith Burton

Ziqin Chen

Ella Cunningham

Jeff Dingle

Eloise Harvey

M. John Kennedy

Isabelle Siena

Sarah Lynn Strange

Jessie Williams

A fine example of student activism in action to save their beloved school from closing.

The play takes place in 2011, in Peterborough, Ont. Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School is the home away from home for students who want to study the arts and explore who they are, in an accepting, caring environment with their peers. Peterborough Collegiate was founded in 1827.  

But there is trouble brewing. The school is not fully accessible to all students. There are no ramps to enter the building or elevators for those students who find stairs daunting. It would cost too much money to bring the school up to code and so it was set to close.

The students go into action. Lead by two students, Breaker (Jalen Brink) and Bode (The Cat) (Isabelle Siena) they galvanize their student body to protest and form the group Raiders in Action to forward the cause, lobbied their school trustees and teachers, argued their case before various adult groups and continued to ramp up the pressure to keep the story in the news. Breaker also imagines the specter of Rick Mercer (Jeff Dingle) to advise her in how to keep things rolling.

The students contended with siblings who made fun of the effort, adults who treated them as “children” and didn’t take their concerns seriously, and others who ignored them. Through it all they continued right to the last.

The production takes place at Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education (PACE) on the very sight of the former Peterborough Collegiate. In fact, the name, Peterborough Collegiate, is still there on one sign.

The building is beautiful. It is now used as a continuing educational facility. But it is still not accessible to all students who need/want to go there. There is money to have someone care for the gardens and grounds, raise and lower the flags outside, keep the floors inside gleaming and the building clean, but not enough money to install ramps and elevators.

What is wrong with this picture?

Playwright Madeleine Brown has written a bracing play about student activism and their enthusiasm for a worthy cause. She has written the students with compassion and care. The adults are written with wit and a bit of tongue in cheek. She has also captured the grinding bureaucracy and how the stalwart students coped.

Director Aaron Jan directs his cast of student actors, some of whom have never acted before, with sensitivity. The play takes place in the school auditorium and the acoustics are unforgiving. Some actors are not adept at projection and others, such as Jalen Brink as Breaker and Isabelle Siena (Bode) are quite clear. We cut them all slack for the effort and commitment. The adult professional actors such as Jeff Dingle as Rick Mercer, Sarah Lynn Strange in multiple roles and M. John Kennedy in various bureaucratic roles are all dandy.

Bravo to all of them for a robust production.

Presented by Theatre Direct, a 4th Line Theatre Special Event, Co-Produced by Theatre Direct and Prairie Fire, in Association with Peterborough Museum and Archives.

Plays until Sept. 23, 2023.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest, Produced by Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Playing until Oct. 15, 2023.

Written by Michael Healey

Based on “Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy” by Josh O’Kane

Directed by Chris Abraham

Set and props by Joshua Quinlan

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Video Design by Amelia Scott

Cast: Christopher Allen

Ben Carlson

Phillipa Domville

Peter Fernandes

Tara Nicodemo

Yanna McIntosh

Mike Shara

Stellar in every single way.

The Story. The Master Plan is a kind of political-thriller-David vs Goliath comedy drama involving slick operators from New York City backed by Google, vs the hard-working, by-the-book civil servants who try to keep up with the shenanigans.

Larry Page was one of the young creators of Google—a monster of a search engine. What Page dreamed of was to create the perfect self-sufficient city using high tech to create automated vehicles, efficient waste management, sidewalks that don’t need shoveling because they would be heated to melt the snow and an efficient rapid transit system—that’s not an oxymoron. 

A subsidiary of Google was formed called Sidewalk Labs to work on this project. Sidewalk Labs was headed by Dan Doctoroff, a slick operator from New York City.

In 2017, Waterfront Toronto, which was the Toronto organization responsible for the development of the waterfront, approached Sidewalk Labs to develop 12 acres of underdeveloped waterfront to fulfill the experiment.

Dan Doctoroff came to Toronto with his shined shoes, smart suit and $50 million to get things rolling. It was thought that the scheme for Toronto could then be marketed to other cities around the world and Sidewalk Labs would rake in the money.

But after three years of squabbling, misunderstanding on the part of Sidewalk Labs about how Waterfront Toronto works, miscommunication, mishandling of details, and secret backroom deals, it fell apart in 2020.

Globe and Mail reporter, Josh O’Kane wrote about the details of the scheme and the eventual debacle for two years. It resulted in his book “SIDEWAYS, THE CITY GOOGLE COULDN’T BUY.”

Playwright Michael Healey was commissioned by Chris Abraham, the Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre to adapt the book into a play and the result is The Master Plan now at Crow’s Theatre.

The Production. The audience sits on four sides of the playing area designed by Joshua Quinlan, who also designed the props. When the audience enters there is an expansive model of wood configurations on a large table. One assumes this is the model of the ideal city. Eventually the model is removed and characters sit at the table with their laptops, cell phones and other necessities. The floor of the stage is composed of octagonal shaped pieces that fit together and can be easily removed if one of the pieces wears away.

Suspended above the playing area is a frame on which is projected information, facts, headlines, timelines, meetings, maps, the area of the waterfront at stake and other areas that Sidewalk Labs wanted. There is also a running tally of the many and various people on boards, in jobs and positions that are constantly shifting. One name is crossed out and another name takes its place. The use of tech is impressive.  At every turn you are bombarded with projected stuff. Kudos to Amelia Scott, the video designer for amassing such an array of videos.

Cast members in costume mingle with the audience as they file in, sometimes chatting them up in their seats. No one came near me so I don’t know if it’s the actor engaging with the audience or the character. It’s interesting watching them interact with the audience before the actual production ‘begins.’

The play is loaded with dates, meetings, facts, figures, reports, information and lots and lots of people being ignored while the folks in charge are running roughshod over everybody. I think director Chris Abraham does a brilliant job of realizing the dense, dizzying accumulation of facts, fiction and misinformation that went on over that time.  He has directed his stellar cast to deliver the information with conviction, urgency and a sense of absolute importance.

The cast that is always on the move, lobbing information at us as well. The acting company is superb. SUPERB!!!

Mike Shara plays Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs. Doctoroff never met a back room he didn’t like for his secret deals and it never involved a slice of wedding cake for him to get what he wanted.  Mike Shara plays Dan Doctoroff in a tailored suit, shined shoes and the most understated polka dot socks. Doctoroff was a slick New Yorker. He could not understand the Canadians with their adherence to rules, public town halls for the public’s input and process. He just cut through stuff, ignored people who got in his way and bulldozed through. Mike Shara plays him with charm and a penchant for thinking quickly on his feet.

He is matched by Ben Carlson as Will Fleissig, of Waterfront Toronto who remembered exactly what was said and not. Fleissig’s control of information and the facts are always at odds with the seat of your pants thinking of Dan Doctoroff. Ben Carlson illuminates Fleissig’s frustration, exhaustion at the going’s on and disappointment with he gets bad news he doesn’t expect. Ben Carlson plays Will Fleissig as tempered, contained and anxious to be accommodating.

Just to show how anxious the Canadians are to be accommodating there is Philippa Domville playing Meg Davis (her father was Bill Davis—who knew a thing or two about politics). In her first scenes, all she does is smile and nod in agreement at what Dan Doctoroff is saying. It isn’t unctuous, it is hopeful that this would work, until it doesn’t and then she is fierce.

Peter Fernandes plays Tree (an actual tree, and he’s dandy) and is a narrator. He constantly circles the space offering information in a rapid-fire way that illustrates the urgency and importance. Tara Nicodemo plays Kristina Verner of Waterfront Toronto, who with Meg Davis, tries to keep track of the changing plans and shenanigans brought about by Dan Doctoroff. She is more forthright than the calm Meg Davis. Kristina Verner is more likely to explode in invective than Meg Davis, and that is a thing of beauty. Yanna McIntosh plays Helen Burstyn, the head of Waterfront Toronto and is commanding, devoid of small talk and all business. When she fires someone it’s swift and without sentiment. Yanna McIntosh also plays many and various characters with variation, distinction and nuance.   

I must mention Christopher Allen as Cam Malagaam—there’s a lovely trick about his name that is explained at the end. Cam Malagaam worked for Dan Doctoroff, only he was the genuine deal and not tainted. As Cam, Christopher Allen describes the beauty of the project and how it would be a great creation, helping build a livable city. His description is so quietly intense, so full of conviction it is absolutely moving. You are caught up short by the honesty and humanity of this character as played by this gifted young actor.

Playwright Michael Healey knows how to get to the heart of political issues because he’s done it before in such plays as Generous, Courageousand Proud. More than anything he finds the folly in situations and realizes the humour, perhaps gallows humour, when things go sideways, as this scheme did. Michael Healey knows how to realize the satire from politicians, smooth operators who try to bamboozle people, and even those trying to follow the rules and do a good job. But more than anything, Michael Healey realizes and celebrates the humanity of those who have dedicated their lives to work that is important. His plays are full of that humanity.  

Comment. Is The Master Plan overwhelming with information? If you let it. Don’t let it. Is Google overwhelming? Sure…one screen leads you to two more and then more. I think you get overwhelmed by it and can’t look away. In the case of The Master Plan it’s very tempting to feel overwhelmed by the information. Don’t. Take in the information as it pertains to the larger picture. Be aware of the various players and not so much the details. Be aware that there are people in the scenario who could remember what was said and what wasn’t. That’s one of the beauties of the play and the production. The speed of the info can suck you in—resist.

I loved the production because everyone involved gives the audience credit for having intelligence, common sense, humanity, a sense of humour and an appreciation of wonderful theatre.

Which The Master Planis.

Crow’s Theatre presents the world premier:

Plays until Oct. 15, 2023

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. (1 intermission).