Lynn

Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Playing until October.

www.shawfest.com

Damn Yankees

Words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross

Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop

(based on the novel by Douglass Wallop, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant”)

Directed by Brian Hill

Music direction by Paul Sportelli

Choreography by Allison Plamondon

Set and costumes by Corry Sincennes

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Sound by John Lott

Magic and illusions by Skylar Fox

Cast: Shane Carty

Élodie Gillett

Patty Jamieson

Gabriel Jones

Allison McCaughey

Mike Nadajewski

Drew Plummer

Kimberley Rampersad

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane

Jay Turvey

Kelly Wong

And several others.

The Story. Damn Yankees a musical in which a man sells his soul so that his favourite baseball team can beat the Yankees for the Pennant. Damn Yankees is a 1955 musical comedy with words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, based on Wallop’s novel “the Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.”

It’s based on the Faustian myth of selling your soul to the devil to get something impossible. Joe Boyd is a middle aged, out of shape salesman who loves the Washington Senators, even though they always lose to the dastardly New York Yankees. He wishes they had a long-ball hitter and would win. Enter Mr. Applegate (also known as The Devil—in flashy clothes).

He offers to change Joe Boyd into a much younger, fitter man named Joe Hardy who is a master at hitting the ball and throwing. But Joe has to leave his wife Meg and go off for the season to do it.  Joe wants an escape clause—if he asks to be let out before the end of the season, then he can go back to his wife as he was before; if not then he is the possession of Applegate forever.

But of course, there are complications. Joe gets homesick for Meg, so he goes back to his old neighbourhood, as this young man, asking to rent a room from her. Of course there is a bond between them, in spite of the age difference. Mr. Applegate sees this bond then plots to break that up by sending in Lola, his best homewrecker to seduce Joe and get him away from Meg and play the game, but then, Applegate will cheat on the bargain as well. Good vs bad; love vs evil, all the supposed deep stuff of musicals.

The Production and comment. It’s 1955. Women are expected to be homebodies by their baseball-loving husbands, and ignored during the six months of baseball season. They are called “old girl” by their husbands as a term of endearment. Meg Boyd and her friends are devoted to their husbands but when the six-month baseball season arrives they can kiss good-bye to any attention from their husbands. They are glued to their tv sets watching the game, cheering and lamenting their beloved Washington Senators and damning the New York Yankees who always beat them.

So often actors are directed to be caricatures: screechy, whiney and anything but believable. Such is the case of Sister Miller (Élodie Gillett) and Doris Miller (Allison McCaughey). Really? We are to believe that women in the 1950s are as witless as these actors are asked to behave? Sad. And the same with the ball players? So disheartening.

Applegate has women on payroll who are home wreckers. The best is Lola and she is called out when Joe gets homesick for Meg and goes to the house to rent a room, not of course telling her who he really is.  

I found the musical, sexist and misogynistic to women—and offensive. If it’s of its time, that’s where it should remain and move over to make room for more applicable and timely musicals.

That said, I thought this production directed by Brian Hill was plodding, slow-moving and dreary with a few bright moments. The choreography by Alison Plamondon is pedestrian and derivative. We all wait for the entrance of Lola, the seductress who will bring Joe back into the fold.

Kimberley Rampersad plays Lola. In a very weird entrance upstage and in gloom, we see two long legs flicking in the air. Then the body of the person appears and the legs touch down on the floor, followed by the rest of the body of Lola in a tight red dress, cut high up the leg. I don’t think Ms. Rampersad is helped by either direction or choreography. There is such an effort to make Lola seductive, after we are told that she is seductive, that it is far from effortless. In fact it is labored, obvious and mannered.

Director Brian Hill tries to inject some modern notes to make this musical seem timely. Some of the casting is gender bending—I note there is a woman subtly cast as a Washington Senator ball player. At the bow several of the ball players bow, as men do and that one lone woman, curtsied. OK we get it.

Many of the Cory Sincennes’ set pieces have photos of many women in 1950s dresses as if they in advertisements—and many of the women are Black. Very admirable, but that would never happen in 1955.  You can’t have it both ways—do a sexist musical and think you can make it ok by adding modern touches.

Not all is lost, though. There are a few bright spots in the production. I thought Brian Hill’s direction of the transition of Joe Boyd (a stalwart Shane Carty) to young Joe Hardy (Drew Plummer) was smooth and impressive. As Meg Boyd, Joe’s devoted wife, Patty Jamieson is true, honest and totally believable as the confused, loving and conflicted wife of this guy who just disappeared without a note or reason. I love the ache of the performance.

As Applegate (the slick Devil) Mike Nadajewski is sublime He is effortlessly seductive, manipulative and sly. He is always thinking of the next plot, he’s dangerous and he sings like a dream. As Joe Hardy, Drew Plummer had to sub in at the last minute as the understudy, and he does an admirable job and has a strong voice as well.

But on the whole, Damn Yankees is a dud.

Presented by The Shaw Festival

Runs until: Oct. 9, 2022

Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, with 1 intermission.

www.shawfest.com

Gaslight

Written by Johnna Wright and Patti Jamieson

(based on the play Angel Street  by Patrick Hamilton)

Directed by Kelli Fox

Set and costumes by Judith Bowden

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Original music and sound by Gilles Zolty

Cast: Julia Course

Kate Hennig

Julie Lumsden

André Morin

The Story.  A husband, Jack, tries to drive his wife, Bella, insane, suggesting she is losing her memory of simple things, in order to eventually rob her.

British playwright, Patrick Hamilton wrote a dark mystery called Gas Light (two words) in 1938. When it played in New York the title was then changed to Angel Street and it went through many titles.

Canadians, Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson felt they could revise the play and take out many of the pejorative aspects facing women at the time. The basic story is the same to a point. Jack is trying to drive his wife Bella insane by noting things she has forgotten or lost in the house.

That’s where the phrase gaslighting comes from: the malicious effort in trying to convince you you are imagining things to try and drive one crazy.  Jack notes that Bella’s mother was insane and that Bella is going that way too, in spite of his care of her. Bella believes it too. She hears noises in the attic and no one else in the house does. She senses that the gaslight in the house flickers for no reason in the house. Things disappear and she can’t account for it. She must be going crazy.

In the old version of this play, an old detective, who is wise to the situation, tries to assure Bella she is not going crazy and that her husband is doing this because he knows there are jewels in the house and he’s trying to get her out of the way so he can find them. Bella then trusts the detective to help her.

In this new version of the play writers Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson remove the detective altogether and have Bella fend for herself and solve the mystery and realize the ruse.

Again, we have a dated play that treats a woman as something to drive crazy, full of the misogyny of the time in London and elsewhere, with a well-meaning effort to make the woman self-reliant. I just think it’s fluffing up old dust. Why bother? There are so many more and better plays than this that speak to a women’s issues.

The Production. While I do have issues with the play, I thought the production was terrific, thanks to the thoughtful, sensitive direction of Kelli Fox, and her wonderful cast. The lights in the theatre subtly went down and just as subtly went up on Judith Bowden’s set.  There are dark furnishings, paintings on the wall, a sense of foreboding in the place.

Julie Lumsden plays Bella with a sense of heightened concern. She is obviously anxious and puts in great effort to be calm. She is the psychologically battered wife who is always seeking her husband’s approval and acceptance. She plays up to him. Is attentive, all in an effort to please him so he won’t be critical of her.  As her shifty husband Jack, André Morin is all poise, calm and concern. He rarely loses his temper and always seems so concerned about his wife’s fragile mind. It’s a measured, compelling nuanced performance. Kate Hennig plays Elizabeth, a no-nonsense maid with a sense that something is not right. Elizabeth has a history with Bella’s family and a great sense of justice.  And Julia Course plays Nancy, another maid who is flippant, arrogant and knows how to play Jack to get what she wants.

All in all, a terrific production of a problematic play.  

Comment. The Shaw Festival is dedicated to the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.  George Bernard Shaw was one of the most complex, iconoclastic, irascible, forward thinking, philosophical writers of the 20th century, or any century for that matter. Among other things he championed women’s writes and issues.  In a world in which women’s rights are under fire, Shaw’s championing of women’s issues is needed more than ever. 

So, it’s mystifying, if not blinkered and tone deaf, to see that the Shaw Festival is opening its 60th summer season with two dated, misogynistic, sexist clunkers like Damn Yankees and Gaslight. 

The Shaw Festival Present:

Runs until Oct. 8, 2022

Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, 1 intermission.

www.shawfest.com

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Live and in person at Lincoln Center Theater, New York City, until May 29, 2022

www.lct.org

Written by Thornton Wilder

Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

With additional material by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Sets by Adam Rigg

Costumes by Montana Levi Blanco

Lighting by Yi Zhao

Sound by Palmer Hefferan

Projections by Hannah wasileski

Cast: Gabby Beans

Paige Gilbert

Priscilla Lopez

James Vincen Meredith

Julian Robertson

Roslyn Ruff

Bold, daring and timely.

The Story. This is Thornton Wilder’s allegorical play about the history of civilization? Humanity? through the ages. There is a raging ice storm outside. We are told by Sabina, the maid, that Mr. Antrobus is not home yet and there is concern.  The wooly mammoth and the dinosaur outside are so unsettled by how cold it is that Mrs. Antrobus lets them in the house. The play references (in no order from me): The Bible and creation, Adam, Eve, trouble, jealousy, preferred children, the flood, Noah, jealous children who become violent, the invention of the wheel, lever, mathematics, infidelity, war and some kind of redemption.

The Production. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz has cast the whole production with actors of colour, offering another layer to the already complex play. Adam Rigg’s set is impressive and lush. That lushness is mainly provided by floor to flies green drapes that look like velvet and drape beautifully. The furnishings are simple with cushions on the couch, a coffee table and all around the space are many and various plants. One of the visual jokes is that when Mrs. Antrobus (a calm, collected Roslyn Ruff) enters to water all the plants, she has one of the smallest watering cans I’ve ever seen for such a huge job. And the puppets of the wooly mammoth and the huge dinosaur are brilliant and the puppeteers who manipulate them and give them voice: Jeremy Gallardo, Beau Thom, Alphonso Walker Jr. And Sarin Monae West

Sabina (a lively Gabby Beans) the maid enters with a dust ‘wand’ flicking the furniture here and there, delivering her lines in a staccato voice about how Mr. Antrobus is not home and they are worried, and it’s sold and the ice is creeping etc. As Sabina, Gabby Beans speaks in a sort of elevated pitched voice. I knew it sounded familiar. Then I got it—Eartha Kitt. She was putting on the distinctive voice of Eartha Kitt but without the obvious seduction. The artificiality was all. At one point in the proceedings, Gabby Beans comes forward, breaks ‘the fourth wall’ and speaks in her regular voice, telling the audience that she has no clue about what the play is about; and that she has been in every play by August Wilson to cement her credentials as a serious actor. I loved that ‘break’ with the theatrical and a nice touch of added dialogue by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

As Gabby Beans gives Sabina a heightened theatricality, Roslyn Ruff as Mrs. Antrobus is poised, calm and keeps everything on an even keel. She attends to details, manages all manner of events and is never ruffled. She looks like a ‘typical’ housewife in the 1950s, crisp dress, coiffed hair, but over the millennia she takes charge without anyone knowing and carries on while others rant and rave. She manages her children. She ‘manages’ her commanding, loud-voiced husband, Mr. Antrobus (James Vincent Meredith); she knows of his roving eye. She sees everything.

Act II takes place in Atlantic City at the Boardwalk and Adam Rigg goes to town designing the amusement park rides, especially an impressive slide in which participants slide down the shoot from one end of the stage to the other. Lots going on here. Where does one focus?

Priscilla Lopez plays a blonde seductive Fortune Teller talking about the future. The problem was that with all the noise of the Boardwalk and the activity, it was hard to make out what she was saying, even if she was microphoned.

Act III returns to the Antrobus home after a seven-year war in which Mrs. Antrobus and her daughter Gladys (Paige Gilbert) have been hiding/living in the basement. Gladys emerges, pregnant. Mr. Antrobus and their son Henry (Julian Robertson) are off fighting the war—on opposite sides. The background of a hill at the back is dark, burnt, desolate and depressing, as if a fire scorched the earth. People wander across the back of the land, walking slowly, defeated by war, life, etc.

Mr. Androbus returns, exhausted. Henry returns enraged. Animosity exists, opposition exists. Is it possible to start to rebuild? Is it worth it?

Comment. The plays asks: “Is there any accomplishment or attribute of the human race of enough value that its civilization should be rebuilt?” The play is so timely because it references plague, isolation, feelings of despair, efforts to continue and hold on, moments of feeling despondent—everything we’ve felt and more during the years of the pandemic. The Skin of Our Teeth was written in 1942. Astonishing.

Lincoln Center Theater Presents:

Plays until May 29, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.

www.lct.org

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Live and in person at Harbourfront Centre. The JUNIOR Festival of local, national and international works for young audiences 4-14 and their adults. On until May 23.

www.harbourfront.com

Those Who Run in the Sky (Angakkussaq)

From the National Theatre of Greenland (Nunatta Isiginnaartitsisarfia)

Performed in Kalaallisut/Greenlandic English context will be provided (but it wasn’t).

From the novel by Aviaq Johnston

Adapted and directed by Patti Shaughnessy

Movement by Bill Coleman

Cast: Salik Gudmundsen Lennert

Milla Marie Peterse

Josef Tarrak-Petrussen

Dina Fisker Sandgreen

I’m using the detailed story synopsis from the program information to fully describe the story because the show is in Kalaallisut/Greenlandic. The program says that “English context will be provided” but it was not.

“Those Who Run in the Sky is a coming-of-age story that follows a young shaman named Pitu as he learns to use his powers and ultimately makes his way back to the world of the living from the world of spirits. This piece is performed in Kalaallisut/Greenlandic. English context will be provided. 

After a strange blizzard leaves Pitu stranded on the sea ice, without his dog team or any weapons to defend himself, he realizes that he is no longer in the world that he once knew. The storm has carried him into the world of the spirits, one populated with terrifying creatures that want to pull him into the frigid ocean through an ice crack and less frightening – but equally as incredible – creatures, such as a lone giant who can carry Pitu in the palm of her hand and keeps caribou and polar bears as pets.

After stumbling upon a fellow Shaman who has been trapped in the spirit world for many years, Pitu must master all of his powers to make his way back to the world of the living, his family and to the one he loves.”

The story-telling and movement are wonderfully vivid in expression and one can glean some of the story because of the actions. In one wonderful image, Pitu kills an animal and carefully cuts it open and puts his hands in the hot blood of the animal. The look of bliss on his face at the revery is wonderful. Then to pay homage to the animal, Pitu drinks a handful of the animal’s blood. More revery. He shares the bounty with his family/village. When Pitu must go on his journey to learn the lessons of being a shaman, the other cast members sit to the side offering sound effects of the wind, the spirits etc. When Pitu does meet the ‘lost shaman’ that shaman speaks English in two speeches for some reason. And it’s not as if that shaman is offering a translation of what Pitu is saying to the spirits etc.—he isn’t. It would have been helpful if there were in fact English surtitles to guide us through the important details of the story, but none was offered. And there was no English context given.

As I said, the performances and the movement and direction, the projections etc. created that mysterious world. Glad to see it, but a bit more clarity should have been offered regarding the language.

Harbourfront Centre Presents:

Closes, May 23, 2022.

Running time: 1 hour.

www.harbourfront.com

A Story of a House That Turned into A Dot

Teatret Gruppe 38

Denmark

Written by Bodil Alling

Directed by Catherine Poher

Composer, sound designer, Søren Søndberg

Lighting designed by Søren La Cour

Cast: Bodil Alling

Søren La Cour

Søren Søndberg

She became so hopping mad

 She became so fizzling furious

She became so livid with rage

that she opened the window and climbed down the ladder and then she ran.

She ran and ran and ran

And ran, ran, ran

And she ran there and she ran around

And ran over and ran under

And ran down, down, down, down, down

And ran up, up, up, up, up

And ran forward and ran along

And ran off, off, off,

And when she turned

The house had turned into a dot.

The poem as explanation says a lot, but it was the strawberries that set her off. It was summer. Bees buzzed, birds chirped, trees rustled, the sun shone and strawberries were plump and luscious. The little girl’s mother brought a lot of the strawberries home for her three children. There was the older brother who got a strawberry, the younger brother got one and the young sister got one as well. In turn the siblings showed off their strawberry until somehow the little girl lost hers. We don’t know how. We don’t know if she ate it and forgot. We know she lost it and her brothers and mother didn’t put too much concern on its loss. They said it didn’t matter etc. But it mattered to the little girl who became so upset and enraged that she left home and ran off. She ran to a place that was very cold. She met animals that made noise. She was totally alone. Her anger subsided and all she wanted was her mother. She found her way home where she was met with a warm house, clean sheets on the bed, a bedtime story and a kiss on the forehead.

Bodil Alling is the Artistic Leader of Teatret Gruppe 38 from Denmark, the creator of the piece and the narrator of the story. Her manner is quiet, compelling and expressive. She says that it’s summer and her two colleagues bring out malleable poles with birds on them; sound effects of bees, birds chirping and trees rustling to suggest the gentle noises of summer. Projections appear on a screen at the back. A large wood table with drawers and shelves hide props, masks and other stuff. To give a sense of the imagination of the group in drawing the audience into this world, there are many glass vases clumped together on the table and both assistants shine flashlights at the vases. The sparkling, stark light suggests the cold that the little girl experiences as she runs away from home. So simple and so effective.

This is the second company from Denmark in as many days that have presented work at JUNIOR. Kitt Johnson X-Act presented SPOIIIIIIIIING that I saw yesterday and they were terrific. Is there something in the water in Denmark that produces such imaginative, creative work? Can we import some here?

Wonderful.

Harbourfront Centre Presents:

Played only until May 22, 2022

Running Time: 40 minutes

www.harbourfront.com

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Live and in person at Harbourfront Centre, The Brigantine Room, part of JUNIOR, a festival for children 4-14. Until May 23, 2022. Toronto, Ont.

www.harbourfront.com

Created by Kitt Johnson

Lighting by Mogens Kjempff

Cast: Sture Ericson

Samuel Gustavsson

Samuel and Ericson are garbage collectors extraordinaire. First Samuel appears outside the Brigantine Room, carrying several black garbage bags and a pole on which is one bag, that falls off. He meets Ericson with his own bags. Samuel frets because he’s lost Accent, a pet. We follow the two men into the Brigantine Room. Children are invited to sit on the colourful covering on the floor, bordering the stage.

By this time Samuel and Ericson have emptied all the bags of stuff and tried to divide the contents into: paper, plastics, metal, electronics, keepers, and other stuff. Kids love to call out what category an item should be put in.

Samuel is active, curious, full of tricks and magic. I loved his sense of wonder. He juggles, plays slight of hand tricks with several cups that hide balls etc. I loved the mess of the garbage, scattering it, collecting it, sweeping it and organizing it. I wish it was that easy at home.  Ericson, on the other hand, is like the ‘grown-up’ of the two. He creates sounds on a console stage right or plays an instrument that could sound like a saxophone.

One trick revealed the true power and talent of these two performers. Samuel does a trick that reveals a cup of marbles. And then he tips the cup and the marbles fall all over the playing space. Then magically, the marbles did what marbles do to children–they become magnets. Each child sitting on the covering, leaned forward, reached out and grabbed some marbles. Samuel looked at Erickson. Ericson looked back. Samuel said to Ericson, “Are they yours?” (meaning the marbles.). Then slowly, each child leaned forward again and returned the marbles to the ‘stage’.

SPOIIIIIIIIING is a wonderful, funny magical romp using stuff we take for granted–garbage. You have to be young enough or old enough to buy into the magic of it, or at least appreciate the skill in doing the tricks, not the least of which is respecting and managing the young audience. Samuel and Ericson are masters at that too. Just terrific.

Harbourfront Centre presents, Kitt Johnson X-Act:

Runs May 21-May 23, 2022.

Running Time: 45 minutes, no intermission

www.harbourfront.com

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Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. until May 22, 2022.

https://tickets.youngcentre.ca

Written by Emma Haché

Directed by Ash Knight

Choreography by Nicola Pantin

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Arun Srinivasan

Sound and composition by Marissa Orjalo

Projection design by Denyse Karn

Cast: Ma-Anne Dionisio

Andrew Moodie

Reese Cowley

A man known only as HE (Andrew Moodie) has been in a horrific accident causing a catastrophic head injury. He remembers almost nothing of the accident or who he is or his world, but he does remember that he loves his wife, SHE (Ma-Anne Dionisio), fiercely. HE spends his time in a hospital, where he is cared for. SHE visits him every day. SHE gives him memory exercises showing him pictures of things. For all of them HE says it’s a chicken, except the picture of the Queen. He gets that one correct. There is no improvement there.

HE and SHE profess their love for each other. SHE says they have a daughter Adele (or is it Alice—both names are given). Adele is a dancer. HE can’t remember Adele, Alice or that he has a daughter.

What SHE wants more than anything is for HE to forget how much he loves her and thus allow her to go and make her life without him. But HE doesn’t forget and gradually as Emma Haché’s play evolves it’s clear that it’s SHE who can’t let go of being needed by HE or so she thinks. She vows to leave for a few days and not visit. HE says that’s good. SHE returns after a few days and it’s obvious HE didn’t notice her absence and SHE did. There is a glimmer that HE might remember something of their former life, but just a glimmer.

Director Ash Knight’s production references bits, pieces and shards of memory in many ways. Jackie Chau’s set is composed of various separate pieces set on the floor. Some slope, others are high enough to sit on. Each can represent the broken bits of HE’S memory. On either end of Jackie Chau’s set are screens on which are projected images, leaves, etc. The audience sits on either side of this playing area. I am not sure of the point of this configuration because, at times, with the projections going on and the extended narration (Reese Cowley), it proves a distraction if both HE and SHE are also there, in various poses of hugging or embracing.

Also problematic is that both Ma-Anne Dionisio as SHE and Andrew Moodie as HE very often speak so quietly to each other, it’s hard to hear them. And if they turn away to the other side of the audience, then hearing what they are saying is almost impossible. I can appreciate intimate conversation, but it’s also important to remember that an audience is there, trying to hang onto every word. Speak up please a bit so we can hear you! As SHE Ma-Anne Dionisio is earnest and committed. Andrew Moodie as HE has moments of absolute stillness when HE is lost in his absent memory, and when he is reminded of the accident, he is horrified. This plays out often, but it doesn’t mean that HE has recall.

Ash Knight has added the character of the Narrator and Adele/Alice played by Reece Cowley. Cowley narrates a poem about dead leaves at the beginning that symbolizes the death of the relationship/memory/a former life, etc. But the placement of this poem comes right after the sound of the horrific crash, without explanation, until much later in the play. Whether this is the placement in the play of the playwright, Emma Haché or not, it seems a bit awkward.

We see how graceful Adele/Alice is when she dances Nicola Pantin’s choreography. But again, I don’t see the point of this character when the essence of Lesson in Forgetting is that HE can’t remember anything about his life at all without prompts from SHE.

I can appreciate the care that Ash Night has taken with his direction in trying to create such a delicate production of such a delicate play. I fear that with the added character and perhaps the projections, it is all a bit fussy and weighed down the production.

Produced by Pleiades Theatre

Plays until: May 22, 2022.

I saw it, May 18, 2022.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

https://tickets.youngcentre.ca

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Continuing this week:

Tuesday, May 17-June-12, 2022.

Tarragon Theatre,

The Herd.

by Kenneth T. Williams

 

Mainspace

Buy Tickets

A Tarragon Theatre presentation, in association with Citadel Theatre and NAC Indigenous Theatre of a Tarragon Theatre/Persephone Theatre Commission.

When twin white bison are born into a First Nation herd, an ambitious blog reporter posts it and the story goes viral. Is this a miracle in the spiritual life of a Saskatchewan First Nation or a one in a billion scientific event? Is this a prophecy coming true or laboratory gene doctoring?

Culture, science and politics collide when a media circus and a ‘new age mob’ descend on the herd to witness a sacred prophecy and the scientific goal to achieve 100% pure-bred Bison. Torn between honouring Indigenous traditions, scientific truth and economic necessity, one Indigenous scientist battles to keep her ethics intact and her herd alive.

Wednesday, May 18-22, 2022

Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Lesson in Forgetting

Produced by Pleiades Theatre Company

A couple trapped. The man is recovering from a severe brain injury and only remembers how much he loves his wife. She loves him, but wishes he could forget how much he loves her so she can live her own life.

https://tickets.youngcentre.ca

May 19-October, 2022.

The Shaw Festival:

Damn Yankees

Gaslight

Too True To Be Good

www.shawfest.ca

Thursday, May 19–29, 2022.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Distant Early Warning (from Pearl Harbour)

  > > >  Sneak peek trailer!!  > > >    “Just because the world ended, doesn’t mean the work stops.” Check out this NEW glimpse into Pearle’s apocalyptic romance! Distant Early Warning premieres THIS WEEK at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, and runs May 19-29.        DISTANT EARLY WARNING > TICKETS HERE

Friday, May 20-22, 2022

Harbourfront Centre

Sky Dancers

A’nó:wara Dance Theatre

QUEBEC

This stunning dance piece explores the devastating impacts of the Quebec Bridge disaster of 1907 and the generational connections between communities who ultimately persevere amid tragedy. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Junior Festival at Harbourfront.

JUNIOR
May 21–23, 2022

JUNIOR, Toronto’s international children’s festival, is Harbourfront Centre’s multidisciplinary festival for children ages 4–14. Through theatre, dance, music and art, JUNIOR explores what it means to be connected to each other and the community around us – at a time when personal connection has never seemed more important. 

It’s a terrific Festival for kids. You would think they would co-ordinate with the WEE Festival that will play May 28-June 12. Only makes sense.

Co-curated by Mary Francis Moore and Nathalie Bonjour.

Supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Icelandair, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, and NEXT Magazine

View Festival Schedules

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Live and in person at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City. Open ended run.

www.ParadiseSquareMusical.com

Book by Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan

Music by Jason Howland

Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare

Conceived by Larry Kirwan

Additional music by Larry Kirwan

Direction by Moisés Kaufman

Music supervision, music direction and orchestrations by Jason Howland

Choreography by Bill T. Jones

Scenic design by Allen Moyer

Costumes by Toni-Leslie James

Lighting by Donald Holder

Sound by Jon Weston

Projection design by Wendall K. Harrington, shawn Edward Boyle

Cast: Matt Bogart

Kevin Dennis

John Dossett

Sidney DuPont

Jacob Fishel

Aisha Jackson

Joaquina Kalukango

Chilina Kennedy

Gabrielle McClinton

A.J. Shively

Nathaniel Stampley

Dreadful. Every aspect of this enterprise is relentless in its desperate efforts to please and impress.

The Story. New York City, lower Manhattan, in the slum area known as The Five Points. The year is about 1863. Blacks and Irish live in harmony in this slum. The focal point of the musical is the seedy Paradise Square Bar owned and operated by Nelly O’Brien. She is a Black woman married to Willie O’Brien, an Irishman. Willie’s sister is Annie Lewis, married to Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis, a Black man. Annie also works in the bar with her sister-in-law Nelly. To the outside world the Paradise Square Bar is the home of prostitutes, degenerates and other miscreants. To the people who frequent the place it’s a safe haven from the outside world.

Into this story comes Owen Duignan, Annie’s nephew. He’s newly arrived from Ireland seeking a better life and hopes Annie can help him find work etc. Also newly arrived is a runaway slave named Washington Henry who has come there to wait for his girlfriend (also a runaway slave) Angelina Baker. Washington Henry refuses to leave and hide because he promised Angelina he would wait for her so they could both go north to safety.

During the comings and goings characters such as Willie O’Brien goes off to fight in the Civil War and ‘Lucky’ Mike Quinlan comes back without an arm that he lost in the fighting. Over time there is conscription. The white male population has to fight while the Black males are not allowed to enlist. ‘Lucky’ can’t get a job because he’s maimed and blames the Blacks who have jobs.  Animosity results.

Owen Duignan will be conscripted unless he can bribe a person responsible for picking names of those to be conscripted. Owen hopes to get the money by winning a dance contest and giving the money as a bribe to the guy picking the names. Then Washington Henry enters the contest too—he needs the money so he and Angelina Baker can escape. Emotions are high.  

The Production. A map of the Five Points area of Lower Manhattan forms the backdrop of Allen Moyer’s set. Nelly O’Brien (Joaquina Kalukango) enters and provides a quick lesson in the Five Points. A projection of what it is today is a metaphor for the musical. A video of the modern area of the Five Points is projected. Cars and motorcycles whiz by like a blur. People scurry along. It’s hard to tell the racial makeup of the people in the video. Nelly points to a sign in the video and says that that is now called Worth Ave. You can’t read the sign because it’s blurry and obscured. As I said, whatever that video was supposed to represent is incomprehensible because of lack of clarity and focus. As is this musical.

The book of Paradise Square by Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan, is a mishmash of stories, tangential off-shoots and so many disjointed loose threads that one can hardly tell what it’s about. We are led to believe that trouble started only when ‘Lucky’ Mike Quinlan came home maimed, couldn’t find a job and blamed the Blacks. A shady politician named Frederic Tiggens was always angling to cause trouble for the Paradise Square Bar and bided his time until he could cause trouble.

The show is choked with song after song by Jason Howland (music) and Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare (lyrics) with additional music by Larry Kirwan. Often songs follow each other without leaving breathing room to think about what the subject was before another song followed, introducing another theme or subject. Every song is delivered as if it’s a do or die anthem, blared at the top of the voice, urgent, desperate, frantic.  Perhaps the most shameless is “Let It Burn”, sung with impassioned power and real tears by Nelly (Joaquina Kalukango). At the end of it there is a moment when she holds the high note (as written and directed) guaranteed to stir the audience to rise in the middle of it for a standing ovation. Wretched, manipulative excess. Kalukango is a fine actor and singer. She has style and a formidable regality that she gives her characterization. But the desperation in a lot of the singing to move the audience is the worst kind of Broadway schlock and seems so dishonest and diminishes the characterization.

As Nelly’s sister-in-law Annie Lewis, Chilina Kennedy enters in a rage for some reason and never lets up. A.J. Shively gives an emotional performance as Owen Duignan. He is also a fine step-dancer and has many opportunities to prove it. Matching him in intense emotion is Sidney DuPont as Washington Henry. I hope someone takes Mr. DuPont in hand and tells him the importance of enunciating what he is saying because I could not readily make out anything he said, he seems to have such an aversion to consonants. His lines came out in an indistinct slur—impassioned to be sure, but incomprehensible.  I know the book is problematic, but not to ensure that the audience can actually understand what you are saying is unforgivable.  

Bill T. Jones’ reputation as a gifted choreographer has preceded him. I also get the sense that he thinks his choreography is the star of the show, there is so much of it, upstaging so many scenes. Often the choreography of one scene begins in the previous scene, usually upstage, when a character is speaking downstage. Talk about pulling focus. Choreography is there to aid and enhance the proceedings, not to upstage and ambush the entire show. Director Moisés Kaufman seems overwhelmed by the whole size of the show. At the end of the day Paradise Square is a noisy, desperate harangue of the audience to love it, appreciate it, take it seriously as important and meaningful. Like being bludgeoned with its own importance.

Comment. Hell would be having to sit through Paradise Square again.

Produced by Garth Drabinsky and 38 other producers.

Open ended run

Running Time: 2 ½ hours approx. 1 intermission

www.ParadiseSquareMusical.com

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Newly Established Coalition Launches Canada’s First-Ever
National Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit
Led by Vancouver’s Zee Zee Theatre, National Consortium has Issued Public Call
for Applications to Paid 10-Month Mentorship & Development Program
Vancouver, BC — Zee Zee Theatre, in partnership with a consortium of Canadian theatre
companies, proudly announces the establishment of Canada’s first-ever National Queer and
Trans Playwriting Unit. 2SLGBTQ+ emerging and mid-career theatre makers from across Canada are invited to submit applications by July 5, 2022 for consideration in the new mentorship and play creation program.

The selection process will see five artists announced in September 2022 to participate in a 10-month process, during which they will receive living wage compensation and one-on-one mentorship as they write a new work. In addition to Zee Zee Theatre, the national consortium members include the frank Theatre (Vancouver), Gwaandak Theatre (Whitehorse), Theatre Outré (Lethbridge), Persephone Theatre
(Saskatoon), Theatre Projects Manitoba (Winnipeg), Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto),
Native Earth Performing Arts (Toronto), Imago Theatre (Montreal), and Neptune Theatre
(Halifax).
“Art has the power to elevate voices and ideas that can change the world. Now, more than ever,
the arts sector needs to prioritize those who have been systematically left out of the
conversation,” says Cameron Mackenzie, Zee Zee Theatre’s Artistic and Executive Director.
“The impacts of this project will be far reaching and numerous: For the playwrights, it offers
growth, stability, and a national platform for their voice and stories to be heard. For the
consortium companies, it creates a new body of work and connects them with vital queer and
trans communities. For our sector as a whole, it offers new representation and reflection in ways
that are meaningful and non tokenizing.”


The underrepresentation of such works in the Canadian theatre canon means that the 1 million Canadians who belong to the 2SLGBTQ+ community do not have adequate opportunities to see themselves, their lives or their families reflected on stage.


To rectify this, Zee Zee Theatre resolved to lead the charge in building the first-ever National
Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit that establishes a new model for play creation and
dissemination, leading to more equitable representation of 2SLGBTQ+ artists and stories on
Canadian stages – ultimately strengthening the bonds of professional artists and collaborators
across the country, while furthering equality for all queer and trans people.


Representing the full geographic spectrum of Canada’s coasts and the north, they have issued a call for submissions welcoming artists to learn about and submit for this opportunity by its July 5, 2022 closing date.

The consortium will act as a selection committee in identifying five emerging and mid-career
artists to participate in the unit, which will be run virtually across Canada. Each selected artist
will be paid a living wage for the 10-month program, during which they will work as a
collaborative cohort and with an assigned dramaturg mentor in a one-on-one relationship.
At the end of the 10-month process, each artist’s play will be produced as a staged reading by
one of the consortium members – while the other companies will offer streaming access to their
communities. The consortium will then commit to full productions or further development of all
five of the new scripts generated in the unit.
For more information and to apply to the National Queer and Trans Playwright Unit, visit:
zeezeetheatre.ca

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Streaming on demand from Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until June 30, 2022.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

Written and directed by Herbie Barnes

Set and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Composition and sound by Cathy Nosaty

Film and editing by Joshua Hind

Cast: Ziska Louis

Kelisha Daley

Mike Petersen

Russell (Ziska Louis) is a lonely boy with a vivid imagination. He has just moved to a new neighbourhood with his mother. He doesn’t like his new school because he has no friends and hides at recess from others. He’s bullied by one other boy. Russell races home after school and barricades himself in his room by putting a chair against the doorknob. He finds sanctuary there with his teddy bear, book and jacket, all of which talk to him. He says that he has been chased by pirates, hence the barricaded door. His mother is not home yet. He has torn his jacket, again, and he feels his mother will be really angry and Russell is tense about that. I figure Russell is a ‘latch-key-kid.’

If he has fears he amply hides them with an overabundance of energy, enthusiasm and his vivid imagination. He conjures pirates who chase him and thus he tore his jacket. He is corrected by one of his talking ‘friends’ and Russell has to acknowledge that a kid named Tommy Wilson pushed him and so Russell tore his jacket. Russell imagines going into outer space with his teddy bear and book (both played by Kelesha Daley) and bravely fighting pirates and others with a ‘sword’ that looks like a kind of hockey stick. In such instances Russell is fearless and energized. But then he is harangued by the jacket that has a life of its own (Mike Petersen) who chides him for the tear. The bed sheet (Mike Petersen) conspires to overpower him until Russell just wishes he could move back to his old neighbourhood where he was happier.

Anna Treusch’s set design of Russell’s bed room suggests a colourful cartoon of oversized drawers and cupboard etc. His bed is unmade. A drawer is open on his dresser with something hanging out. His cupboard is open and there is stuff laying around. Treusch also designed Russell’s costume of baggy orange pants black top and sneakers and socks.

Director Herbie Barnes has envisioned a larger-than-life world for Russell in which inanimate objects take on a life of their own. There is magical work bringing the jacket and the sheet to imposing life along with the voices that humanize them. Ziska Louis as Russell is always on the move either jumping on the bed, jumping over objects, scurrying here and there, sword in hand, fighting imaginary pirates and never seemingly to slow down.

I must confess I found a lot of Russell’s World troubling. While I can appreciate that director Herbie Barnes has directed Ziska Louise as Russell to be energetic, I found this performance to be more over-wrought than energetic. Also, there is much in Herbie Barnes script that is missing. We are almost 30 minutes into the 40-minute running time, full of adventure and pirates, and frenetic movement without actually knowing why they moved to this new neighbourhood (we’re never told); if there is a father (we’re never told); and what the mother (Kelesha Daley) is like. When she does come home we see that she’s lovely and not at all the angry person she is described as, regarding the jacket.

Herbie Barnes brings up important subjects in the lives of young people: bullying, loneliness, fear, fitting in, abandonment, but he has not explored them fully enough to be satisfying. I think another go-round of investigation in the script would be helpful.

I realize there was a talk-back at the end of the viewing but I don’t watch them to glean what the intention was of the playwright-director. I leave that to the play to illuminate and alas, I found this production fell short of exploring these important issues. Another re-write might be helpful.  

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Runs until: June 30, 2022.

Running time: 40 minutes approx.

For ages 5-10.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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Live and in person at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. Toronto, Ont. Running until May 22, 2022.

www.canadianstage.com

Written by Aleshea Harris

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set by Ken Mackenzie

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Raha Javanfar

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Projections by Laura Warren

Cast: Tyrone Benskin

Matthew G Brown

Oyin Oladejo

Savion Roach

Sabryn Rock

Alison Sealy-Smith

Vanessa Sears

Micah Woods

An American gothic tale of revenge and justice being given an explosive production.

The Story. Racine and Anaia are twin sisters. They have been navigating foster homes for 18 years, since they were three-years-old. When they were three-years-old they and their single mother, known as She, were in a terrible fire. Anaia suffered debilitating burns on her face and arms, Racine fared better with burns on her arms and shoulder. They were told their mother died in the fire. But then Racine received a letter from their mother from the “Dirty South” saying she was in a nursing home and dying and she wanted them to come quickly to her. She had something to say. She wrote to Racine because she thought Anaia was too emotional.  

When the twins got there, they found their mother in bed, breathing heavily, dying. She had been there since the fire. Burns covered most of her body. She thought it better the twins thought she was dead. But she then told them what happened. Her estranged husband (known as Man) broke into the apartment and set her on fire with the girls as witnesses. That’s how they got their burns. He took off for California to start another family (having twin boys).

She’s instructions to her daughters were simple: kill your father DEAD. Real DEAD and bring back proof—treasures. And because the daughters thought their mother was God (“she made us”) the sisters sought out their father and his new family to exact revenge and justice for what he did to their mother and them.  

The Production and comment.  In her play notes, African-American playwright, Aleshea Harris says: “This epic takes its cues from the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Spaghetti Western hip-hop, and Afropunk.”

In her program note director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu says: “Is God Is takes the experiences of Black women and Black people and mythologizes them, creating a story that is truly unapologetic, free, and fueled with a kind of propulsive action that is so satisfying to bring to life.

What makes the play so exciting is that it challenges the idea of respectability politics and how we expect Black women to behave in society. It further humanizes the experiences and the complexities of how Black folk move in the world based on what we have inherited and what we desire to become.

Is God Is is at its centre about a desire for freedom and for justice. It is about breaking the cycles that bind us and fighting to take back the power that we are so often robbed of.”

And while every character in the play is African-American, for those in the audience who don’t have a Black perspective to bring to the play, they bring their own cultural experiences, different, but just as valid, to engage with the play. Such is the beauty of the theatre to join us together in story-telling, no matter how different our cultures. Is God Is has the rage of an ancient Greek story of revenge, the sweep of a Shakespearean story of an ongoing feud, the reason of which is long forgotten and the ‘ordinary’ story of getting even.  The need for revenge and justice is blazing hot. Reason doesn’t enter into it.

Ken Mackenzie’s set of large, moving screens are effective in establishing different locations, with set pieces, She’s bed etc. easily moves on an off. Ming Wong’s costumes for Racine and Anaia are rough, individual and don’t adhere to a code of others in their age group. Costumes for the other family are fashionable and hip. The make-up of the burns don’t go for realism, but they are effective in illuminating what these sisters and their mother went through.

Raha Javanfar’s effective bands of red light at the top of the screens and the moody illumination throughout are evocative. Thomas Ryder Payne’s subtle sound builds until we know that trouble is brewing. Laura Warren’s projections flash on the screens and back wall to indicate the scene titles. My concern is if the people sitting extreme house left can actually see through the ‘wall’ to get the full effect of She in her bed and the projections on the wall behind. It seemed that a wall was in the way.

Is God Is is a play full of violence, both impending and in the past. Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu is such a gifted director that she knows that the suggestion of violence is more effective than squirts of blood, guts and gore. She navigates this fraught story with care, nuance and an ever-increasing pace.  

Playwright Aleshea Harris is smart in creating her specific dialogue for Racine (Oyin Oladejo) and Anaia (Vanessa Sears), two women shunted from foster home to foster home, with no sense of stability, education or learned ‘polite ways.’ Racine, beautifully played by Oyin Oladejo, is the more street-smart and scrappy. She takes no prisoners but has a kind of innate loyalty to their absent mother. As Anaia, Vanessa Sears plays her with a heart-breaking insecurity. Anaia is the more physically damaged and because of her facial burns, people don’t look her in the face. She is the more emotional of the two, but there are surprises lingering beneath the surface.

When She (Alison Sealy-Smith) comes into the story, we get a sense that she was a caring, loving mother just from her describing what happened on the day of the fire. She picked up her girls from day-care. She gave them a healthy snack while she prepared supper. She touched them affectionately. She railed when her estranged husband looked like he would even touch them. Alison Sealy-Smith as She, gives a performance full of subtlety and nuance. Her gasps for breath are urgent and desperate. She must tell her daughters the story.

Aleshea Harris gives us another side of the family dynamic with Man’s (Tyrone Benskin) second family in California. He, his wife Angie (Sabryn Rock) and their twin sons, Riley (Micah Woods) and Scotch (Savion Roach), live in a good house on a hill; Angie has a car and money to shop for all the food the sons demand. The sons are encouraged to pursue their interests, Riley loves succulent plants and Scotch loves writing poetry. Their language suggests education and engaging with like-minded friends. But Angie is frustrated. The sons ignore her when she needs them to help with the groceries and while she says her husband is not physically violent, he is distant and she feels frightened. As Angie, Sabryn Rock is consumed with frustration, loneliness, and angst. It’s a contained but blistering performance. She plans something drastic to help her out of that situation, until Racine and Alaia turn up.

Is God Is is a ‘grab them by the throat’ play given a production that holds the audience until the end, an even after.

An Obsidian Theatre Company, Necessary Angel Theatre Company and Canadian Stage Co-production.

Runs until: May 22, 2022

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (no intermission).

www.canadianstage.com

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