The Passionate Playgoer

Live in person City Hall—William St. Parking Lot. Waterloo, Ont, and on-line. Part of IMPACT 21 from MTSPACE21. I saw the last on-line performance.

www.mtspace.ca

Inspired by “Memories of Fire” by Eduardo Galeano

Co-presented with Neruda Arts

La Patagallina y Ciclicus, Chile

Directed by Martin Erazo (Chile)

Original idea and dramaturgy by Martin Erazo and Leandro Mendoza

Musical creation and interpretation, Alejandra Muñoz

Wardrobe design, Antonio Sepulveda

Lighting by Martin Erazo

Accessory and headdress design by Gabriela Gonzalez and Natalie Morales

Puppets (Apu Condor) Tomas O’Ryan

Sound Design by Pablo Contreras

Cast: Francisca Arce

Gloria Salgado

Francisca Artaza

Valentina Weingart

Alex Carreño

Matias Burgos

Juan Ferino

From the show information: “A funeral is transformed into a pagan celebration, a coffin becomes a portal which brings forth the voices of Atahualpa and Jemanya, and the rituals of the Yawar and shrines to the dead are put on display in this rustic opera. Physical theater and contemporary circus mix and meld, breathing life into a series of dreamlike landscapes through the use of object manipulation, poetic imagery, and live music. A Latin America under construction is presented in this dynamic production that speaks to us about the tension that exists between our memory of the past and our experience of the present, raising the questions: How much of that past have we lost? How much of it lives within us in the present? Is it possible to reconnect with that past?”

What a terrific company of street theater artists, acrobats, jugglers and wonderful storytellers. The symbol of death—a skull and the outline of skeleton is maneuvered around the stage—the skull is held above the formation of the skeleton. The outline of the body is composed of what looks like bowling pins. The pins are held in such a way that they look like the skeleton’s arms and legs. Later the bowling pins will be used in complex juggling formations. A coffin is carried by the cast around the stage—the skull is on the side. Later the coffin is propped on the narrow edge and the lid is open. The cast enter the stage from a slit in the back of the coffin. There are so many inventive images in this creation it’s eye-popping.

The stories that are told are stories of explorers coming from elsewhere and slowly taking over the land. One story is that the people had the land and the visitors had the Bible. When the people woke up from sleep, they had the Bible and the visitors had the land. This is South America. It could be anywhere as we all know. This is what impressed me most about the piece, rather than the memory aspect of it. The truth of stolen land is so prevalent in so many histories.

The theatricality of the company is so vivid. Loved it. I would love to have seen this company live because the filming of it was frustrating. Whoever was filming this could not leave any scene untouched for more that 10 seconds so that we can at least focus on the group, their athleticism and theatricality. The camera jumped from side shots to close ups to medium shots so frequently and so quickly it was aggravating. I’ll look out for this company again.

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On line and live at City Hall—William St. Parking Lot, Waterloo, Ont. Part of IMPACT 21, Oct. 8, 2021.

www.mtspace.ca

Written by Henrietta Baird

Directed by Liza-Mare Syron

Choreography by Vicki Van Hout

Sound and composition by Nick Wales and Rhyan Clapham (Dobby)

Lighting by Karen Norris

Set by Kevin O’Brien

Performed by Shakira Clanton

A stunning, gut-twisting piece of theatre from Australia.

From the show information: “Lara, a Sydney mum working interstate (Queensland) as a dancer, receives a distress call from her youngest son, Kyle. Dad hasn’t been seen for days and they are running out of food. Lara has only the weekend to traverse the world of high-rise public housing, drug dealing, and addiction to track him down.”

When Lara flies home from Queensland she hugs her two songs, Kyle and Charlie and questions them about their father, Simon. He just up and left them says the boys. Lara then spends hours calling Simon’s phone with no answer. Finally a woman in a rough voice answers. This is Ronnie. Lara wangles the address out of her and she goes over to confront Simon. The address is a high-rise complex of public housing. The elevator has blood and excrement on the walls and buttons to take you to the floors. Lara almost gags on the stench.

When she gets to Ronnie’s apartment she finds Ronnie, a gruff woman who deals drugs. She lost her two children when she left them in the care of her sister. Her sister was busted and the cops took the children away. In the apartment are various people strung out on drugs. Lara then spends time with Ronnie chasing every lead to find her husband who just stepped out to get some drinks. Lara is plunged into a world of addiction in which mother passes on the addictions to her children. Ronnie gave a young hysterical teen some drugs to calm her down (this was the only way she knew to do it). The young teen then became an addict as well.

Playwright Henrietta Baird has created a vivid, sordid world of the addict. It’s a world peopled by people who want to find their place, love, something positive. And yet she does not judge her characters. We see that world through Lara’s eyes, her desperation to find her partner, Simon, and take him to task for leaving their children alone without food for days. It’s a world where Lara is shocked by the addictions and desperation she is seeing. But her lack of judgement, her compassion for these people is hopeful in a way.

She has a realization at the end, that she might be like these people, (I won’t be specific) that I found might be a bit too quick a conclusion. It does make sense, but it seems to come too quickly. We need more information to build up to it.

A large standing mirror is on a bare stage. As Lara, Shakira Clanton dances onto the space in an energetic dance performance. She holds out her arms and then wraps them around her shoulders. She strokes her arms. She skitters from side to side of the space. There are other movements that are part of the routine. It lasts about five minutes.

Then she goes behind the mirror and comes back around it putting on a jacket and tells us that she got a call from her youngest child Kyle and she tells us she flies home. As she narrates the story—the embracing of the kids, the search for Simon etc. she repeats all the movements of the dance but this time there is meaning. Her arms stretched our is Lara reaching for her children to hug them; stroking her arms is her stoking theirs. Skittering across the stage is the speed with which she begins her search for Simon. It is wonderful how choreographer Vicky Van Hout created a dance to interpret what writer Henrietta Baird was saying in words. Nick Wales and Ryan Clapham (Dobby) created a subtle percussive soundscape and score of beats and sounds that made the whole experience evocative of throbbing and a heart-beating,

Terrific.

Produced by Moogahlin Performing Arts, Sydney, Australia

Plays: Oct. 8, 2021.

Running time: 70 minutes.

www.mtspace.ca/IMPACT21

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Continuing this week….

IMPACT21

Plays until Oct. 9, 2021.

On-line and in person, in Kitchener, Ont. Hosted by MT Space.

This is a theatre-film festival of bracing, challenging work that is local (Kitchener—a lot of talent there); National (Esie Mensah, Red Sky Performance etc.); and International. The latter has work from Chile, India, Tunisia and Australia. The festival provides stories and experiences from other cultures. Always fascinating.

As You Like It (by William Shakespeare) A Radical Retelling by Cliff Cardinal

Plays until Oct. 17, 2021.

In-person at the Streetcar Crowsnest, Guloien Theatre, 345 Carlaw Ave. Toronto, Ont.

From the Crow’s Theatre:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” As You Like It William Shakespeare.

The title of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It holds a double meaning that famously teases, this is a play to please all tastes. For this world premiere, acclaimed Indigenous creator Cliff Cardinal (Stitch, Huff, and Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special) has promised to do something just like that. His radical retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy will launch the Crow’s Theatre 2021-22 Season.

Cast will be announced at each performance.”

www.crowstheatre.com

Blindness

Plays until Oct. 24, 2021.

In person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Based on the Jose Saramago novel.

Adapted by Simon Stephens

Directed by Walter Meierjohann

With the voice of Juliet Stevenson

The citizens of an unnamed city are struck with a plague of blindness, except the wife of the doctor treating many of them. The people are herded up and taken to an abandoned mental institution ‘for safekeeping.’

The production is a light and sound experience. The audience wears earphones and hears the show. The technique of hearing the sound in one ear, then the other, then around the room is astonishing. It’s as if someone is whispering in your ear. You hesitate to turn your head quickly to see them for fear of hitting them in the nose with your face.

A stunning experience.

www.mirvish.com

Friday, Oct. 8 to Oct. 30, 2021.

Fire Hall Theatre, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque.

Serving Elizabeth

Written by Marcia Johnson

Directed by Marcel Stewart

“Mercy, a Kenyan independence activist, is asked to cook for the visiting princess Elizabeth, who turns out to have a few surprises of her own. Sixty years later, the making of a TV series about the royal family causes more than a few culture clashes for a young Kenyan-Canadian production intern. A fresh, funny, and smart new play about colonialism, monarchy, and who is serving whom.”

What is particularly noteworthy here is that Marcia Johnson, who wrote the play, is also playing Mercy. Looking forward to seeing this.

www.1000islandsplayhouse.com

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On-line (and in person in Victoria Park Tent, as part of IMPACT 21 in Kitchener, Ont. I saw it on-line, Oct. 3 where it closed, playing Oct. 1 and 2.

From Montreal

Playwright, actor, director, Mohsen El Gharbi

Translated by Leanna Brodie

Lighting by Armando Gomez Rubio

OMI MOUNA is subtitled, “Or, My Fantastic Encounter with My Great-Grandmother.”

From the Programme Notes: “Inspired by real life events, Omi Mouna is a tragicomic play that the actor, Mohsen El Gharbi, improvises every evening. A man investigates the source of the violence he suffered as a child. Dominated by fear of having inherited his father’s brutality, Mohsen goes to Tunisia to film his great-grandmother, Omi Mouna, and retrace the history of her family. He finds himself thrown back to when she was a young girl, martyred by a tyrannical husband. Mohsen then becomes an invisible witness of dramatic events.”

When Mohsen ‘goes back in time’ to recreate, or should that be ‘deconstruct’ the events in his great-grandmother’s life, he “discovers a long history of women’s  resilience and struggle.”

Mohsen El Gharbi was born in Belgium of a Flemish Mother and a Tunisian Father. Mohsen wanted to make a film of his great-grandmother’s life because she was 100 years old and had seen two World Wars, upheaval, world events and could tell him about it. He went back to see her and learn.

On a bare stage wearing a white shirt, dark pants and sneakers, Mohsen El Gharbi plays out the incidents of his great-grandmother Omi Mouna’s life. He goes back to her Tunisian home to talk to her. On his way he gets distracted and can’t find his way. He laments that his father never taught him Arabic.   He becomes an invisible witness.  It’s 1912, in a small Tunisian village Omi Mouna is a young woman, almost a girl really, married to a violent husband. He would disappear for months as she waited patiently for him, making his dinner but not knowing if he would come home. She sought work, for potatoes, chilies and a tomato, from a local ‘rich’ family. To do the work she would have to leave the village which she did not have permission to do. The labour was hard, the food meagre. We get a vivid picture of what his great-grandmother had to endure.

When her husband returned, he beat her with a rod. When she began to have children he beat their feet methodically and violently as a ritual. Mohsen wanted to put his invisible hand on his great-grandfather to stop him, but one of the sons did it for him. The great-grandfather shoved his son out of the way and continued beating. Over time another child would try and stop him to no avail. Omi Mouna tried to stop the beatings by fighting back. One time she won.

With graceful movement and economical body language Mohsen paints the vivid world of his great-grandmother. She would peel a potato by holding the knife straight and turning the potato and not the knife around the potato. Mohsen. She would dig in the dirt as part of her work for the rich family—Mohsen strained, dug hard and repeated the motion. You could imagine sweat on his brow.

His great-grandfather was only referred to as “Greybeard.” He drank until he was drunk; he cheated on his wife; he left her for great lengths of time while he travelled; he read the Quran faithfully, and he beat his wife and children. When Greybeard was challenged because of his brutality he was asked what race he came from? How can you appear religious but still be so inhuman?  One gets the sense from the show that the abusing father passed on the abusing behaviour to his children who in turn passed that on. Mohsen recalls being abused as a kid and wanted to know the source.

Mohsen’s writing is vivid. Leanna Brodie’s translation, as always, is exquisite.  There are lines of such wisdom: “You have to look at children for them to grow and have confidence.” Wonderful. Mohsen is a captivating performer. Filling the whole space with the world of this play. It’s the first time he performed it in English. Stunning.

Produced by L’Acteur en Marche & Collectif Honey Haloua.

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In person at the Gaol Yard, Kitchener, Ont, as part of the IMPACT21 Festival, and on-line. Plays: Oct. 2 & 3, 2021.

Written by Ahmad Meree

Director, Pam Patel

Lighting by Nadia Ursacki

Sound designer, Janice Jo Lee

Set and costumes by Madeline Samms

Yet another fascinating play by Ahmed Meree (Suitcase, Adrenaline).

From the programme information: “Saeed is a troubled men in an intense negotiation with a regular visitor. Saeed suffers from paralyzing fear of disease, disability and death. The visitor badgers him in an attempt to take over Saeed, continuously provoking a fight or flight response. Saeed is so overwhelmed that he is no longer able to distinguish who is his doctor and who is his psychiatrist. The question is, who is the visitor and who is Saeed?”

Saeed (Ahmad Meree) sits pensively at a table. He wears a shirt, sweater-vest, pants and is barefoot. A man (Majdi Bou-Matar)  appears behind him in his underwear. Is he a lover? A visitor?  Saeed complains of his health. He fears he has cancer. He smokes. The visitor says he must go to the doctor. At the doctor’s (Majdi Bou-Matar) Saeed is told to give up smoking. He says he can’t. He is told he will die if he does not give it up. Saeed can’t help himself. He frets so much he goes to his psychiatrist (Majdi Bou-Matar) for further help. He yells at Saeed. Saeed yells back. And on and on. Saeed is asked various simple questions, the answer to which is: “I don’t know.”

It’s all existential in Ahmad Meree’s new play. Saeed is so consumed with worry about his health and his world that he seems paralyzed with it and can’t do much at the beginning except stare out into the distance. He must be goaded into seeking help by the visitor.

In Pam Patel’s fluid production Majdi Bou-Matar segues efficiently from visitor to doctor to psychiatrist back to visitor by first putting on his clothes and then just putting on and off a white doctor’s coat. As Saeed, Ahmad Meree has that far away look but also pent-up emotion. This is a man who is anxious and is consumed by it, unable almost to function. Frustration is in his voice as he bellows at his visitor/doctor/psychiatrist. I thought it got a bit shouty as Majdi Bou-Matar as the psychiatrist yelled various comments about stopping smoking, and Ahmad Meree bellowed back. This is tricky. After a while if there is too much relentless shouting, the audience stops listening. That’s not a good think. Bou-Matar offers an offhandedness to his characterizations as doctors who are not too caring. This plays nicely with Meree’s anxious, frustrated Saeed.

There are interesting images: Saeed staring out into the void at the beginning; looking up his condition in wide reams of paper that tangle him up as he reads and reads and gets more and more concerned. At times Saeed also puts on the doctor’s coat making us wonder who is the doctor and who is the patient.

I Don’t Know creates a world submerged in uncertainty and that certainly causes anxiety, sort of like our world today. Fascinating play.

I am grateful that the IMPACT21 Festival is offering on-line streamings of this show if one can’t physically go to Kitchener to see the show live. But this is less than ideal. The lighting seemed dark and details were lost in the gloom. I would love to be able to better see the set, which was composed of card-board boxes stacked up at the back. There were large bunches of papers strewn around Madeline Samms set. The scenes of extended shouting should be reviewed and perhaps toned down in a way that still establishes that anxiety.  

Produced by Theatre Mada

Plays: Oct 2 & 3, 2021.

Running Time: 50 Minutes.

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On Line, from the IMPACT21 Festival, hosted by MT Space, Kitchener, Ont. Zooming: Oct. 5 at 1:00 pm  and Oct 8 at 1:00 pm

Created and performed by Itai Erdal, Dima Alansari and Ker Wells.

Originally directed by Ker Wells.

Present reading directed by Anita Rochon

This actually is a bracing, thoughtful, passionate conversation between Itai Erdal, an Israeli-Canadian theatre-maker, and Dima Alansari, a Lebanese woman of the world, of film and the arts, about the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

From the programme’s description:

“This is Not a Conversation

October 2 – 8, 2021

The Elbow Theatre  
Vancouver 

This is Not a Conversation is, in fact, a conversation―about guilt, memory, identity, and the nature of responsibility.

Dima’s father is a Palestinian from Jerusalem, where she is not allowed to visit. Itai is an Israeli from Jerusalem, who was a soldier in Palestine. Both are natural storytellers and improvisers. Both are very passionate about the conflict. What happens when you put them on stage together? This is not a conversation.

The situation in Israel and Palestine has become the quintessentially unresolvable conflict of our time. Successive generations and governments have discussed, negotiated, and fought over an area of land smaller than Vancouver Island, and home to over twelve million people, and a peaceful solution has never seemed more remote than in the past year. Itai Erdal was born in Israel and served with the Israeli Army in Lebanon and Palestine. Shortly after he left the army, he decided that he also had to leave Israel, and in 1999 he came to Canada. Dima Alansari is a grandchild of Palestinians exiled from Jerusalem during the 1948 forced exodus. She has never been allowed to visit Palestine. In 2013 Itai and Dima met at a dinner party in Vancouver. Working with director Ker Wells, Itai and Dima have created This is Not a Conversation: a conversation in words and actions about guilt, memory, identity, and the nature of responsibility.”

While this certainly is a conversation about a thorny issue, it is so clear that this is a conversation between friends who respect each other. Each is impassioned when expressing their points of view, but they are never accusatory or insulting. They each listen to each other’s arguments and often see the other’s point of view. That does not mean that they let the other ‘person off’ lightly. Often it seemed that Itai Erdal was having to explain himself, if he expressed himself as an Israeli in Jerusalem. When he talked of East and West Jerusalem, Dima Alansari challenged him about that divided city. He often commented on Israel and she refer to it as Palestine. He painted a picture of how Israelis could get from one place to another, but if one was a Palestinian living in Israel it could take four hours of constant documents being checked, interrogation etc.

Dima talked of the displacement of the Palestinians from what would be Israel in 1948 but also acknowledged that the Jews who were settled there were also displaced from their European homes. Itai talked of the different between Jews and Israelis and that many Israelis were critical of their government which did not mean they were anti-Israel. He explained why he left Israel and came to Canada. All of it informative.

I loved this conversation for its respect, passion, intensity of thought, history, context and glimmers of hope. It ends with a question, the answer of which is up to us.

A first draft workshop of This Is Not A Conversation was invited to the 2015 IMPACT Festival in Kitchener. The finished show premiered at the 2017 Spark Festival in Victoria, B.C. It was originally directed with skill and sensitivity by Ker Wells, who unfortunately died two years ago. This version was directed with care and respect by Anita Rochon.

In this angry, raging world of blinkered opinions and intolerance of a different point of view, This is Not A Conversation  is an important conversation to hear.

Created by Elbow Theatre, Vancouver, showing at IMPACT21, for MT Space, Kitchener, Ont.

Runs on Zoom: Oct. 5 at 1:00 pm and Oct. 8 at 1:00 pm

Running Time: 1 hour.

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Live, in person, in The Gables. 250 Tollendal Mill Road, Barrie, Ont. Part of the Bees in the Bush Festival from Talk Is Free Theatre. Playing until Oct. 3, 2021. www.tift.ca

Created and artistically lead by Joe Pagnan

Based on the folklore written by Alexander Afanasyev

Composer, Richard Lam

Video Designer, animator, Cameron Fraser

Movement Director, Clarke Blair

Narrator, Glynis Ranney

Dancer, Macayla Paris

A stunning, creative piece of theatre that is a perfect way of ending the Bees in the Bush Festival.

This is from the Creator, Joe Pagnan’s programme note. It gives context, history and comments on the process: “An album pressed onto an x-ray plays the last sounds and conversation she heard. A young woman and her doll go to the wood to seek what her family demands. On returning, she brings with her a choking fire. Through Russian folktales by Alexander Afansyev, this sonic experience tasks its solitary audience into the woods to witness performance ventred from a spinning vinyl record.

During the Cold War, “Rock on Bones” or “Ribs” was a technique used to record and trade banned music across Russia. Taking discarded x-rays from trash bins of hospitals, the records were cut using stolen recording devices from Germany during the war. It was called “Ribs” because many of the x-rays were of lungs from the tuberculosis outbreak at the time. With vinyl sales controlled by the state, the flimsy x-ray film was ideal for its availability and ability to be rolled and hidden in sleeves. The process of printing “Ribs” caused the record to be volatile with deteriorating sound quality after the first play. Knowing each play depreciates the performance, we hope to capture the vital essence of live theatre through organic erosion by using rib technique. This has been synthesized in our piece, though the erosive wear on the disc, the act of hand lathing, echoes this tradition. What She Burned experiments with the spirit of oral tradition. Passing the work to each creator along a path with little contact between.”

This explanation is all the more fascinating because the performance takes place in the woods, the Gables in Barrie to be exact. It’s a very small audience—I was there with another woman who I didn’t know.

We are led into the Gable by a Talk Is Free guide. She explains a bit about records made from old x-rays. We are offered bug spray. My time was 2:00 pm on Friday, Oct. 1 so the bugs were not heavy.  There are several shows scheduled during the day of 20 minutes each.

We were led to a place on the path where the ‘set’ was. There was an old wood chair without a seat. There was a wood box near it with a table setting on it of a dirty, rusty knife on the outside, then a rusty spoon, then a clay figure of a little doll next to the spoon and then a rusty fork. This was a proper table setting from ages ago. On the end of the box were a pair of horns that were from a goat. I did not enquire about how or where they got those horns, or of the goat. There was another smallish wood cabinet up from the box. There was an old-fashioned record player on the box and a record made from an x-ray in the player. A man from Talk Is Free Theatre pointed a remote-control device at something in the box and the record began playing and the story began.

The story was of Vasalisa, a young Russian girl. Her mother was dying and she gave her daughter a tiny doll to keep her company and protect her. Vasalisa’s mother told her to keep the doll in her pocket and not tell anyone about it. She said that if she got into trouble and needed help and solace she should feed her doll some food and some water and she would be protected.

Vasalisa did that the first evening, she was so distraught without her mother. The doll told her to sleep and it would be better in the morning. And it was. Vasalisa lived with her father but then he married a woman with two daughters. All seemed good but her stepmother put her to work quickly. Vasalisa soon learned her stepmother was mean and so were her step-sisters. There are echoes of “Cinderella” here but without the prince.

When the record began playing, the soft, lilting voice of Glynis Ranney is heard as the narrator. It is almost a lulling sound, yet compelling. As she narrates the story an animation appears on the front of the cabinet. It is of a green dancing image. It’s not a hologram because it’s not three dimensional, but that’s what this dancing image suggests.

Clark Blair choregraphed work for dancer Macayla Paris. Then Cameron Fraser videoed the dancing and then translated it into the green animation projected onto the wood cupboard. Richard Lam provided the evocative score.

The story is of resilience, tenacity, resourcefulness and the help of spirits. The production created by Joe Pagnan and company is magical. To have these old artifacts set in the words to tell the story, juxtaposed with this technology makes it all seem futuristic. We were actually shown the record that was playing, fashioned from an e-xray. The story was captivating. The artistry is par for the course with Talk Is Free Theater. Loved it.

Talk Is Free Theatre presents:

Plays until: Oct. 3, 2021.

Running Time: 20 minutes.

www.tift.ca

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Live, in-person, indoors in the Guloien Theatre of Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until Oct. 24. 2021.

www.crowstheatre.com


Writer/performer, Cliff Cardinal

Creative co-conspirator, Chris Abraham

Creative co-conspirator, Rouvan Silogix

Lighting designer, Logan Cracknell

Cliff Cardinal is charming, impish and smiling. He’s also angry. He is giving the land acknowledgement before the beginning of his “radical retelling” of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and he just hates them—land acknowledgements. He hates it when a white person gives them—disingenuous. And he hates it when Indigenous people give the land acknowledgement. Mr. Cardinal is Lakota-Dene, born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He’s angry because the land of the Indigenous people in this country and in the U.S. where his father lives, was stolen by settlers. He’s angry at those professing to be allies when it just seems like lip-service. He says that to an Indigenous person the land is like Mother. So when oil spills on the land, as from an oil leak from a pipeline, it spills on Mother Earth. He’s angry about climate change. He’s angry at the rich because they don’t work hard. A person who picks strawberries works harder. (Interesting that. I was sitting up the row from the people whose name is on the theatre where we are. I was sitting in front of a couple who own a vineyard in Prince Edward County who gave a lot of money to this very theatre company. I was sitting behind generous, respected patrons of the arts, who also donated money to this company. Hmmmm.)

Cliff Cardinal then segues in his land acknowledgement to residential schools and the unmarked graves that were ‘found.’ He unloads about how the Catholic Church is responsible for the horrors of the residential schools; this segues to pedophile-priests, cruel nuns, the Pope and his lack of condemnation. Cliff Cardinal is angry that only teachers who could not get jobs where they wanted to teach come up north to (badly) teach Indigenous students and then leave as soon as they get a better job where they really want to teach. He wants better teachers for Indigenous students. No argument there.   

He quietly rages about many minorities who have also suffered over time: Syrians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Rohingya, Palestinians. While he tangentially references them, conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the Jews in that list. I found that interesting.   

For that long extended, occasionally funny, anger-filled land acknowledgement, Cliff Cardinal,  is giving the audience “the finger.”

It’s opening night of this new show. It’s also the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a somber day of reflection, responsibility and consideration. Many people in the audience wear orange to commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who were taken from their families to attend residential schools and the thousands who did not return. And with quiet charm Cliff Cardinal gives his unsuspecting, captive audience, “the finger.” Without actually flicking that stiff middle digit or saying F—K-YOU the point of his extended land acknowledgement is clear. He is telling the audience his truth and reconciliation is impossible.

There is a post-show message in the program that says that aspects of the play….”shapes the audience’s experience in a particular way and invites the audience (we hope) to think about the actions of the artist, our expectations as theatre-goers, and the social, political, and economic conditions that underpin the theatre-going experience. We hope you will walk away tonight thinking about your experience of the show and live with the feelings and thoughts you had while watching it.”  Gawwd. Ya know, for really smart theatre creators, as the ones involved in this enterprise, they can be really ‘thick’ and clueless. The quote betrays such an ignorance of audiences and what they think and how they feel when they watch a show. Of course the audience thinks about the experience! And they live with the feelings. Why do you think they show up? And the place was buzzing with comments at the end so the creative co-conspirators should be happy.

And as for the ‘radical retelling of As You Like It? I didn’t.

Produced by Crow’s Theatre.

Playing until: Oct. 24, 2021.

Running Time: It doesn’t matter.

www.crowstheatre.com

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Live, in-person, indoors in the Orillia Opera House, Orillia, Ont. Plays until Oct. 3, 2021.

https://theatrebythebay.com/shows

Written by Ziigwen Mixemong

Directed by Herbie Barnes

Set and costume designer and Regalia Curator, Samantha McCue

Lighting designer, Echo Zhou

Sound designer and composer, Mathew Magneson

Cast: JordanM. Burns

Pesch Nepoose

Brianne Tucker

Trina Paula Moyen

John Roldan

This is a gripping, painful, enlightening, gloriously human play. The production is too.

The Story. From the production information: “Based around the experiences of local Indigenous people entering a sweat lodge, Mno Bimaadiziwin (meaning A good way of living) is a story about the resiliency of love, healing and community in the face of trauma.”

Four Indigenous characters meet outside a sweat lodge to partake of the sweat ceremony, in which they will sweat out their demons and thoughts that have burdened them. But first the Conductor (John Roldan) wants to know their stories. So he asks each in turn what brought them to this point.

Imogen (Brianne Tucker) is of mixed race and is not quite sure of her place in either a white or Indigenous culture. She is curious though and has come to the ceremony to find out, and perhaps learn of her roots.

Nisheemaas (Jordan M. Burns) is attending his 6th sweat. He had a good home until he came out to his mother as gay. She rejected him and threw him out of the house. He was homeless for a while until he was found by a kind man and taken in by his ex-wife, Mary. Mary was tough but loving. Nisheemaas stayed for three years until he could find his own place.

Dawnis (Pesch Nepoose) was desperate to be like the popular kids in school so she got into drugs. She became pregnant when she was 16-years-old when Children’s Aid took her child away. Zhawen (Trina Paula Moyen) was a student at the University of Toronto but the pressure of measuring up to the white students took its toll. She said she had to run twice as fast to even keep up. She was so distraught she attempted suicide.

All four characters came to the Sweat Lodge Ceremony seeking answers to their questions and solutions to their traumas.

The Production. Playwright Ziigwen Mixemong has set her play in Orillia and this is where it is also performed. Samantha McCue’s set is simple. A blue round tent with an open flap sits centre stage. This is the sweat lodge. Tree stumps are placed around the space. These are the the objects on which the characters sit when they are preparing for the sweat lodge. There is a pile of what looks like clothes stage left. Echo Zhou’s lighting suggests a dappled pattern flickering across the stage—perhaps a reflection from a camp fire. There is a feint sound effect of drumming in the background and ceremonial singing of traditional Indigenous songs, along with the crack of twigs breaking or fire crackling as it burns wood.

The characters enter the space and sit on the tree stumps waiting to be greeted by the Conductor (John Roldan). The cast is strong, expressing each character’s story with a mix of confidence and also reticence. They each have burdens they need to unload and share and they have to be comfortable enough to do it in this ceremony. The reticence is that these are deep rooted guilts. The cast handles it all beautifully. The Conductor is the one who asks each to tell their story. John Roldan as the Conductor (and others) is inviting and never judgmental.

During the course of the story-telling there are many references to “The Creator.” Some characters are either entreating The Creator to help or end their pain. Nisheemaas asks the creator why he made him gay, the cause for such upheaval in his life. The Creator talked to him about being 2-spirited.  There are wonderful scenes in which The Creator reminds the characters of the time before they were born, in which they have a conversation with The Creator about the world they are going into, the difficulties they will have and why it’s important that they endure. Life and every person are sacred.

Director Herbie Barnes has filled his production with vivid imagery. The idea of The Creator is established by two arms appearing out of the blue tent. That’s it, just the arms. John Roldan plays The Creator, in a majestic voice. They are the strong arms of a spirit that can hold up the most disappointed being; the arms are beckoning; strong and embracing. It’s a lovely image. Often you got the impression that a lot of the staging in Herbie Barnes’ direction is evocative of a ceremony which enriched the production.

Comment. Iain Moggach, the Artistic Director of Theatre By the Bay in Barrie, Ont. invited Ziigwen Mixemong to write a play for the company. Mno Bimaadiziwin is the result. It’s a look into Indigenous culture, set in Orillia and is performed there.  The stories of the four characters are harrowing but the teachings, ceremonies, and wisdom leads each character through their ordeals into enlightenment and brings the audience along with them. Ziigwen Mixemong illuminates the meaning of the title “a good way of living” that involves listening, sharing, respect, decency, forgiveness, kindness, and caring for others.  Those who are not Indigenous will find echoes of their culture in this play. Theatre bridges our differences and illuminates our similarities. More than anything, I loved that Ziigwen Mixemong celebrates the all including embrace of Indigenous culture in the play.

This is a wonderful play. I want to see every single play that Ziigwen Mixemong writes in future. And I hope there are a lot of them. This kind of talent must be supported, embraced and championed.

Produced by Theatre By the Bay

Runs until Oct. 3, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

https://theatrebythebay.com/shows

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In person, outside at the Harvest Stage, Blyth, Ont. Until Oct. 3, 2021.

Written by Joan MacLeod

Directed by JD Nicholsen

Cast: Rebecca Auerbach.

From the production information:

“A breath-takingly beautiful, funny and heart-breaking play about a young couple who buy a cattle ranch in Alberta and set about the farm life they’ve always wanted. To pay the mortgage, her husband takes a job in the oil patch for half the year. When he’s offered the chance to work on a rig in Newfoundland, the couple see a clear way to fulfill their dreams. A tragedy at sea, and an unspeakable loss, lead a young woman to relive the greatest love of her life; from their first Valentine’s day, to their last. Originally premiered in 1987, this stunning Canadian classic, will be performed by Rebecca Auerbach and directed by JD Nicholsen.”

Marjorie has just come in from milking the cow(s?). She wears clunky Wellington boots, sweat pants, thick socks and a long sweater. She talks about “Valentine’s Day through the ages.” She recalls carefully preparing her first Valentine’s Day card for a cute boy in grade school, on whom she had a crush, and then realized every other girl prepared a Valentine’s Day card for him too. He could care less about the girls. Crushing. There were Valentine’s cards in high school with more success.

Then Marjorie went to university and met a fellow student named Harry. He was studying cow management and was planning to own a farm one day. They became friends, then camping friends, going camping together. And they fell in love and eventually got married. Marjorie was not too keen on Harry’s abrasive father, but she could cope with him. What mattered was that Harry always remembered Valentine’s Day. He would send a special message to Marjorie via a radio program that passed on such messages.

Before Harry could buy a farm he planned on making a lot of money working the oil fields in Alberta. Marjorie would stay home in their trailer. She loved him still but one sensed during her telling us the story, there was trouble in the marriage. His absence wore her down. Then the truth came out. His latest job was working on the Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland. There was a terrible storm and the Ocean Ranger was going down in it and the men had to get into flimsy lifeboats in the freezing night. Harry never made it. She was told the news on Valentine’s Day. That was three years ago. They have been married for six years.

Playwright Joan MacLeod writes meticulously detailed plays of the human heart, both bursting with love and hurting with grief. She writes of the tingling intoxication Marjorie felt when Harry put his arms around her in bed. The description could make one lightheaded it’s so vivid. MacLeod writes of the loneliness, despair and anger Marjorie feels at the loss of the love of her life. She also writes of the possibility of a better future too, but not too quickly.

JD Nicholsen has directed this production with wonderful small details that bring out Marjorie’s tenacity and humour. As Marjorie, Rebecca Auerbach is bright, determined and funny at first. She is wistful when she says, “Valentine’s Day through the ages.” As she tells us the story, she pours the milk in the pail into two bottles. She spoons the cream from one jar into the other to even them out. She keeps busy in order to avoid the loneliness. And in a telling moment, Auerbach twirls her wedding ring (is she trying to take it off? It’s hard). That bit of business is quietly heartbreaking.

Jewel is a beautifully written play of joy, grief and trying to move on. Rebecca Auerbach and her director JD Nicholsen bring it to shimmering life while squeezing the heart.

Produced by the Blyth Festival.

Runs until Oct. 3, 2021.  

Running Time: 57 minutes.

www.blythfestival.com

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