Live and in person at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ont. Until March 18, 2023

Note: I first saw these plays when they streamed on demand as part of the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2021. I was delighted to see them live and in person last night (March 7, 2023). I am revising the review from 2021 to reflect aspects of the vibrant live production.

Written by various writers, listed below.

Directed by Mary Ellis

Performed by Margo MacDonald

Lighting Design by Laura Wheeler

Sound Design by Alli Harris

Described as “a Triptych of Uncanny Abduction” involving: “a school haunted by troubled children, the mysterious disappearance of a friend in the woods and an encounter with the unknown on open waters,” these three descriptions just prick your interest and the plays do the rest to hold you in their grip.

The three monologues that make up Dressed as People are: Skinless by Kelly Robson, The Shape of My Teeth by Amal El-Mohtar and Repositioning by A.M. Dellamonica. Dressed as People is produced by Parry Riposte Productions, and all the artists are proudly queer. Their previous production was the wonderful The Elephant Girls by Margo MacDonald about a notorious girl-gang that terrorized London, England for 100 years. Two of the three plays in Dressed as People deal with queer themes and relationships.

All three plays are directed by Mary Ellis and they are performed by Margo MacDonald.

The costumes for each of the three plays hang on three hangers that are suspended from the flies. Margo MacDonald will  put on each costume and a wig, if necessary, for each play. She transforms beautifully for each play, dissolving into the character.  


Written by Kelly Robson

In 1989, while teaching Canadian Literature at a university in Edmonton, a nun and professor, (named Dr. Sheedy or Sister Susan) reveals her past as a young instructor at a haunted school full of troubled children in 1950s Ireland. “Haunted school full of troubled children” isn’t the half of what went on in that school.

Sister Susan calmly engages the students telling them they will study Canadian stories in her English literature class. She says that “students rarely read Canadian books, “now you will be forced to.”

As Sister Susan, Margo MacDonald says that stunning line with such calm and understatement you are caught unawares (MacDonald has a dandy way of doing that in all three plays). She notes a surprise in the students when she tells them she is both a nun and a professor. She is not in the traditional habit and wimple. Here hair is short and blonde. She wears black slacks, a crisp white blouse and black jacket with a prominent cross hanging down in front of her white blouse.  “You’re surprised to see me dressed as people” she says. This sense of the normalcy of things that seem exotic and different peppers all three plays.

Sister Susan always wanted to be a nun. She did her training in Ireland in the 1950s at a church named St. Mary’s where she taught the girls. She said ‘I especially love the students I can’t help, no matter how hard I try.” One such student kept trying to escape over the wall near the laundry of the church. Sister Susan was always surprised at how the student could get over the wall, what with being so heavily pregnant.

I suck air when I hear this. I know what this place is.  St. Mary’s is one of the notorious Magdalene laundries overseen by the Catholic Church. They were run in Ireland from the 18th Century to the late 20th century. They were also established in other countries. Young women, pregnant and unmarried, would be taken to one of these churches by their fathers, brothers or boyfriends and left there. They would work in the laundry under terrible conditions, working in corrosive materials, lye soaps without benefit of gloves. Their hands would burn until the skin was raw. When they came to term their babies were taken away, never to be seen again. In one instance a mass grave was found with bones from more than 100 corpses. (Echoes of the horrible news of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, also run by the Catholic Church). The young women would remain there because their families shunned them.

In Skinless, Sister Susan said that the young women spent four hours in school and six hours working in the laundry. She was particularly taken with this one young woman who tried to escape. Sister Susan staunchly followed the rules of the Church but still took pity on the girl. The girl was found one night clawing at the ground of a hidden area of the grounds. We found out what was there later and it’s chilling.

Kelly Robson’s writing is vivid, stark and startling. She floats a line in so effortlessly and Margo MacDonald’s delivery is so subtle, understated and lacking in judgement, that the juxtaposition of the calm and the horrifying is like a smack in the face. Kudos to director Mary Ellis for her sure hand. Sister Susan says that as a punishment she would “strap the young woman’s hands skinless.” It’s suggested that this young woman might have had a sister who had been at the church earlier. Sister Susan says, “…one sister leaves home and father starts in on the rest.” Two pregnant sisters arrived “one month apart.” Sucking air again.

A stunning story, beautifully done, realizing all its horror.

The Shape of My Teeth

Written by Amal El-Mohtar,

For The Shape of My TeethMargo MacDonald puts on a long curly wig and a full, long coat with red lining. A stool is entwined with wood suggesting a forest. Loved that detail.

In 1827 a woman reflects on her best friend’s mysterious disappearance in Mortimer Forest on the Welsh border. She refuses to be left behind.

A woman tells of her great friendship with her friend Sophie. They were fast friends from girlhood. They know their deep affection for each other is not of the ‘ordinary’ kind. They know their parents want nothing more than for the two girls to marry two brothers and be close as couples. That won’t happen because the women don’t want to marry men.

There was a forest close by, foreboding, perhaps. Intriguing? Definitely. It was rumored to be full of fairies, or the fantastical characters found in stories and books. As the woman tells us as: “What they didn’t know, but would learn soon enough, the forest had no taste for men—girls though…..”

One of the girls suggested they run away and live as they wanted. It was suggested they run away to Canada (I accept this as poetic license since “Canada’ did not exist by that name in 1827). As the women got older their intense love for each other and the efforts to hide it from the outside world, took its toll. Sophie did something drastic and leaves her friend behind. But her friend was so passionate, obsessive in her love, that she refuses to be left behind.

Amal El-Mohtar has created a story of mysticism, intrigue and mystery. She has created the forest as a place of danger and enticement. Her language is full dazzling descriptions, turns of phrases and coded queer references from the times. El-Mohtar has written a compelling story of passion and obsession.

Margo MacDonald has imbued the woman initially with a calm, tempered attitude until later in the play when she refuses to hide her passions. She rages at the world in which Sophie has left her and her determined fierceness at the end is compelling, mesmerizing and dangerous.  


By A.M Dellamonica

For this Margo MacDonald wore a short-sleeved shirt, buttoned to the neck and skinny tie.

In the present day, a seasoned entertainer on the lesbian cruise circuit grapples with memories of an encounter with the unknown while on a Pacific Ocean repositioning cruise, headed to Vancouver, B.C. from Sydney, Australia.

Erica Prince is a lesbian comedienne down on her luck and needs a job. She is preparing an audition tape of her act for an agent in the hopes of getting back on the lesbian circuit. Margo MacDonald plays Erica as brash, overly cheerful and accommodating. She does not wear a wig.  Her patter seems a bit desperate and mannered. She gives asides to the camera in explanation to the person who will watch it.

Erica was on a previous cruise and there was an incident on her day off. She drank too much and when she woke up in her cabin she was soaking wet.  It seems she fell overboard—no she did not jump and try to kill herself, she assures the camera!–and was saved by a mermaid. The mermaid came to life on board and a relationship formed. (This can’t be a spoiler alert since that relationship was so integral to the story).

Erica admits that she has intimacy issues but the bond between Erica and her mermaid is so strong and intense that it continues. The mermaid has issues as well. They try and solve each other’s problems. Promises are made. Erica needs this cruise job in order to keep her promise to her mermaid.

A.M. Dellamonica has created a fantastical story that makes you think it might be real in a way. Again, her language of coded queer references is not intimidating and adds colour to the narrative. Margo MacDonald creates just enough nervous energy in Erica you can’t help but root for her in her quest.

It’s good to see Margo MacDonald performing here in Toronto for a change—she is such a gifted actor. All three stories are a huge accomplishment and well worth your time.

Produced by Parry Riposte Productions

Plays until March 18, 2023.

Running Time: 75 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, Toronto, Ont. Until March 19.

Written by Anosh Irani

Directed by Richard Rose

Set and costumes by Michelle Tracey

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Ali Kazmi

Husein Madhavji

Vic Sahay

A beautiful, aching play called Behind the Moon by Anosh Irani. About the immigrant experience, loyalty, brotherhood, faith, dreams and rude awakenings.

The Story and production. We are in a small Mughlai restaurant in Toronto. Mughlai refers to a kind of South Asian cooking with lots of spices, nuts etc. A sign outside the restaurant says the food is Halal which means food that is made of ingredients permitted under Islamic law, as defined by the Quran. There is also a large tree branch outside the restaurant that shakes when the wind is up.

Designer Michelle Tracey has designed a functional restaurant with a few tables and chairs, for sit-down business. But the restaurant is mainly for take-out. The food is in trays in a glassed-in display case.

Ayub is the person who runs the restaurant, although he does not own it, and cooks the food. When the play opens Ayub is diligently cleaning the glass of the display case. He is furious at the customers who put their hands on the glass, even though he has asked them not to.

The owner of the restaurant, Qadir Bhai, has insisted that Ayub keep the place spotless and the floor so shiny that he can see his reflection in the tiles. It’s after hours and Ayub is cleaning the glass.

Jalal is a taxi driver who was in the neighbourhood and came in for some Indian food. It was urgent he had to have Indian food. Ayub is reluctant to serve him because it’s after hours. But Jalal is so persuasive and persistent in his need that Ayub relents.

The next day we meet the successful owner of the restaurant, Qadir Bhai. He’s a quiet man but it’s clear that he has a great effect over Ayub. All Qadir Bhai keeps telling Ayub is to keep the place spotless, so that he can see his reflection in the tiles on the floor.  Qadir Bhai knows Ayub can cook. He just needs him to keep the place clean.

All three men represent three variations of the immigrant story.  Qadir Bhai is the rich restaurant owner, originally from India who immigrated and is a success. He owns restaurants in Toronto He is in negotiations to open a restaurant in Montreal.

He’s just found out that his son is engaged to someone named ‘Cindy’ which suggests that she’s not South Asian. This is something Qadir Bhai has to get used to. He keeps telling Ayub that he is doing him a favour as payback for something Ayub’s father did for him. Meaning Qadir Bhai brought Ayub over from India to Canada to cook and run this small take-out place.  Ayub left his wife and family in India to earn money to bring them over. But that was four years ago and Ayub is desperately homesick and wants to go home to see his wife. Qadir Bhai is a smooth talker and tells Ayub that isn’t possible for him to go home at the moment, but he (Qadir Bhai) is working hard on Ayub’s papers for permanent status. We get a sense that something is not quite right here. 

Jalal came to Canada with his wife and daughter for a better life and he worked hard too. But something devastating happened and his wife moved back to India. Jalal drives a cab and was prepared to do something drastic that night, but he saw Ayub’s restaurant and was determined to get some Indian food so he could depend on something familiar, namely the Indian food he ate back home.

While the immigrant experience is common to the three men, the experiences varied. Jalal came to Canada for a better life and not just to make money at any cost. Jalal is a erudite man. He is grateful for what he has and heart-broken for what he lost. He keeps coming back to Ayub’s restaurant in gratitude for helping him with a new start. To show his appreciation of Ayub, Jalal gives Ayub  an expensive hand-made rug. 

Ayub is there under the patronage of Qadir Bhai, but as time goes on it’s clear Qadir Bhai is not all he’s made out to be. Ayub’s story is revealed and it’s clear that his story gets murkier and murkier. He’s in that restaurant to such an extent that he’s not seeing anything of Canada. He’s only seeing the kitchen.  Meeting Jalal is a good thing for Ayub because he needed an ally who could stand up for him in his own way. He needed to get his faith back.

The worst thing to happen for a restaurant would be to see a rat on the premises. In a way, Ayub is obsessed with this thought and eventually imagines himself trapped like a rat in that place. That becomes the turning point for him.

Anosh Irani is such a vivid writer. He has written of the immigrant experience before in his novels and plays. He knows about the loneliness and isolation first hand, when he emigrated from India to British Columbia to study.

In Behind the Moon Anosh Irani takes a look at the immigrant experience from three points of view, each beautifully expressed. It’s a play full of humour, but also heart-break, disappointment and resolve. Anosh Irani has a beautiful way with language and story-telling.

Again, it’s a beautiful piece of theatre that squeezes the heart. Richard Rose directs this with a sure hand and a sense of the humour and the emotion that surrounds the characters. Ali Kazmi plays Ayub. Ayub has a self-deprecating sense of humour. When he is rubbing the glass to clean it, the effort is real, intense and determined.  Ayub’s whole work effort is in that simple task of cleaning the glass. When Ayub is in the presence of Qadir Bhai he seems to tilt forward with his head slightly bowed as if in supplication, he is so eager to please him. As Ayub, Ali Kazmi gets more and more obsessed at his position. We slowly see him go off the rails. It’s a beautifully controlled performance and it’s heartbreaking.

As Jalal, Husein Madhavji is more contained in the revelation of his moving story. He is quietly determined in helping Ayub and certainly when he finally meets Qadir Bhai. Jalal is the true friend that Ayub needs and vice versa.

And as Qadir Bhai, Vik Sahay is every inch the successful man. He dresses well, albeit casually, and moves slowly and with deliberation. The other two men seem to move in quick time as if jumping through hoops. Qadir Bhai knows that he has Ayub under his thumb and he keeps him there with feigned concern and assurances that things will be fine. How one manipulates the other is cringe-worthy and the point in this instance.

Comment. Anosh Irani slowly reveals each character’s story, peeling away each layer of the work. At the end of Behind the Moon we have seen the effects of immigration on these three men, in a play that is funny, heart-squeezing, multi-layered, detailed and deeply felt. Terrific play and production.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Plays until March 19, 2023.                                     


Live reading at The Red Sandcastle Theatre produced by the Chekhov Collective. Closed.

Written by Anton Chekhov

Directed by Rena Polley

Cast: Rena Polley

Brenda Robin

David Storch

Helen Taylor

The Chekhov Collective is a small but feisty group of actors who are devoted to the teachings of Michael Chekhov. Michael Chekhov was the nephew of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, and a student of Stanislavski.

The Chekhov Collective gives readings of Anton Chekhov’s short stories among others and their latest effort was a very short run (now closed) of “The Fiancée.”

Nadya Shumina is 23 years old and lives in the country on her grandmother’s estate with her mother. She is engaged to Andrey Andreyevich, a well-meaning, but shallow young man. He lacks ambition and occupies his time by playing the violin.  Nadya begins to dread the approaching wedding day and decides to follow her cousin Sasha’s advice and turn her life upside down. She runs away to create her own life and not one created by a husband.

The readings by The Chekhov Collective are always interesting, lively and ‘read’ by a group of gifted actors. This reading was no different. Rena Polley directed with a sure hand and the result was loaded with detail. David Storch read all the men’s parts and infused all manner of reactions and context in his reading. Brenda Robins read the part of the narrator and Helen Taylor read the part of Nadya.

If I have a quibble/concern it’s that there was too much shifting of chairs, music stands and folding and unfolding of a screen in an effort to suggest new locations and scenes. Too time consuming and really unnecessary.

As usual, the story illuminated Chekhov’s world of indolent characters with little to do and no ambition to do more, generally. It’s rich in the flavour of the time, and the sifting attitudes of the people. Not keen on the fussy moving of the chairs etc. Loved being there to hear this short story

Presented by The Chekhov Collective.

Now closed after a short run at the Red Sandcastle Theatre.


Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest theatre, The Howland Company in association with Crow’s Theatre, plays until March 12, 2023.

Written and directed by Paolo Santalucia

Set by Mark Hockin

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound by Jacob Lin

Cast: Michael Ayres

Veronica Hortiguella

Cameron Laurie

Dan Mousseau

Nancy Palk

Rick Roberts

Hallie Saline

Meghan Swaby

Shauna Thompson

Jeff Yung

Prodigal is about a wayward young man who has come home to his rich, privileged family, after being cut off from any inheritance. The fallout from his return is explosive. The writing is sharp, complex and challenging about: privilege, redemption, forgiveness and responsibility. The production is gripping.

The Story. Prodigal was written and directed by Paolo Santalucia. He has written a terrific play about privilege and wealth, proving that money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can make misery palatable, sort of. The title references the prodigal son, from the Bible: a son leaves his family but is given his share of the inheritance and squanders it. He then returns home looking for redemption etc. His brother, who has remained and been dutiful, is now upset by this turn of events, is jealous of his brother and his treatment and finds it unfair.

Rowan Clark is a very rich man about to have one of his dreams come true. He’s getting a prestige job. His wife Marilyn is supportive and ecstatic.  But there is trouble lurking. Rowan and Marilyn’s profligate son Edmund has been cut out of the family and he left, although his father sent him money every month.  Edmund led a dissolute life of drugs.  Then the money was cut off so Edmund has returned to have a reckoning. He arrives on the evening when his brother Henry and Henry’s fiancée Sadie are having their engagement party.

Henry is the brother who stayed, was responsible and is angered at Edmund’s return. There are all sorts of revelations that change each relationship and the precarious balance of power in that family. While Rowan appears to be generous and wants to do good by helping the brother of his personal assistant, his reasons are more troubling than altruistic. There is also a daughter, Violet, who seems to have been forgotten after her two brothers get all the attention. She is accomplished, able, responsible and has scruples. But it’s Henry who is embraced and consulted by his father Rowan.  

The Production. The production begins with a Preacher (a convincing Shauna Thompson) talking about the parable of the Prodigal son as well as redemption and forgiveness, subjects that occupy a lot of our consciousness. The Preacher also begins Act II with an etymological discourse on “The Prodigal” complete with reference to the word “prodigious.” I think that’s one of the play’s beauties. Mark Hockin has designed a set that is spare but beautifully illuminates the rich lifestyle of Rowan Clark and his family. The design of the flooring looks like it’s marble. There is a small round table stage right with three plush chairs; an island with a sink stage left, and up from that is a white wall with a door that looks like it will lead to other parts of the house. In fact, that is the door to the large fridge. Love that surprise. One doesn’t need more to present the rarified world of that family.

The engagement party is going on in the house. The two caterers, Pauline (a confident, proud Meghan Swaby) and Quentin (an anxious, harried Jeff Yung), Pauline’s partner in business and life. Pauline is the chef and Quentin is the waiter and perhaps public face of the company. Playwright Paolo Santalucia does a beautiful job of delineating the classes/social strata here. Pauline does not like working for these rich people. Someone sent back a perfectly made steak saying it wasn’t cooked properly. Pauline was blamed. Is it because she’s a woman? Is it because she’s Black (although it’s never referenced—Meghan Swaby, the actress, is Black)? In any case, Pauline reads the situation perfectly. She gives the steak back to Quentin to (re)-present it to the ‘offended’ person saying the steak is now properly cooked, although Pauline has done nothing to it. We can hear the squeals of glee at the now ‘perfectly’ perfect steak. Pauline knows ‘phony’ when she sees it.  

Sadie, (Veronica Hortiguela) is the very stylish bride-to-be of Henry. Sadie is an influencer who always wants to take pictures for her site.  As Sadie, Veronica Hortiguela is ingratiating, smiling, and a bit demanding. She wants to take a picture of Pauline who is prickly at the notion. Words are said and Sadie is offended. She references the latest self-care process and her therapist who helps her cope with what we might consider every day life issues, like disappointment.

In Sadie, Paolo Santalucia has written a deliciously annoying character, so self-absorbed and fragile, one is tempted to cover one’s eyes in disbelief. But wait. Santalucia is not a sloppy, facile writer. He is nuanced, subtle and detailed in writing deeply complex, flawed characters who are therefore, hugely alive.  Sadie surprises later on. Veronica Hortiguela illuminates the many and various aspects to Sadie’s character, and one of them is that she is not as flakey and frivolous as initially thought. Hortiguela peels away the layers of her character little by little, fooling us to believe one thing, and then changing up and revealing something else.

Her fiancé, Henry (a buttoned down, appropriately tense Cameron Laurie), has something to prove at all times. He is a bit of a hot-head because he has to show his father he is in charge and can make things happen. It’s a lovely performance that in its way breaks the heart. There is also Henry’s and Edmund’s sister, Violet (Hallie Seline). With these two brothers fighting for attention of their father, Violet seems to have been left to fend for herself. She is every bit as accomplished as her clean-cut brother Henry, but she is barely noticed by father and brother.

As the head of the family, Rowan Clark (Rick Roberts) is smooth, quiet speaking for the most part, secretive and laid-back. He saves his ire for the arrival of Edmund Clark, his wayward son, played with blazing fierceness by Dan Mousseau. Edmund has all sorts of issues: drug-addled, emotionally wounded by the family and desperate. He is manipulative and he’s learned that from his family. They feed off each other.

Nancy Palk plays Marilyn Clark, Rowan’s stylish wife and support. Matters are complicated by Rowan Clark. He’s having an affair with his assistant, Simone, a watchful, careful Shauna Thompson. All of Simone’s conflicted feelings are in Shauna Thompson’s clear, detailed performance. Added to this is Simone’s brother Levi (Michael Ayres, who coincidentally met Edmund on the same plane. Levi is in some kind of trouble and Rowan offers to fix it. He wants to be seen as a good man, but his motives are less than altruistic.

Comment. Paolo Santalucia has written a really smart, challenging play that leaves you with so many ideas to unpack and dissect. I love the issues that Paolo Santalucia introduces with each character. He does not offer solutions, just the issue that we all turn over in our minds based on what each character says. We consider the source of a statement; we see how they interact with each other; we listen to their arguments—and there are plenty in this family—and we come to conclusions, perhaps.

It takes the whole play to appropriately say everything that needs to be said, leaving us with the challenges right up to the last word, to work out the parable, and any of the other issues of the play. I like that there is nothing neat about it. Santalucia gets us to consider redemption and forgiveness; can you have one without the other? If a person apologizes in an empty room, is that reason for redemption? Is the person worthy of forgiveness?  Who is worthy? Questions we also ponder in life. Paolo Santalucia has done a sterling job of directing this. It’s a stylish, elegant, often volatile production and totally engaging.

The Howland Company is association with Crow’s Theatre Presents,

Playing until March 12, 2023.

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


Live and in person at Young People’s Theater, Toronto, Ont. Playing until April, 2, 2023.

Based on the book by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion

Adapted by Jim Millan and Ian MacIntyre

Directed by Jim Millan

Sets and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound design and composer, Deanna H. Choi

Video designer, Daniele Guevara

Cast: Hannah Forest Briand

Aurora Browne

Craig Lauzon

Ziska Louis

Shaquille Pottinger

Evelyn Wiebe

A sweet play about a nine-year-old boy who wants to be an astronaut but ironically, is afraid of the dark. A play about facing your fears in a production bursting with colour and energy.

The Story. The Darkest Dark is about a nine-year-old boy named Chris who is afraid of the dark and struggles to overcome it. The irony is that Chris loves everything to do with space and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. And he did because Chris is Chris Hadfield Canada’s own astronaut.

It’s the summer of 1969. Chris, his older sister Cindy and their parents are at their cottage on Stag Island. They are all preparing to watch the moon landing that will happen in July. The problem for Chris is that he can’t sleep because he is bedeviled with being afraid of the dark. He was afraid of the dark when going to bed in the city and seemed to get a handle on it. But that fear comes back to him in the country. He imagines every shadow and noise to be some kind of danger or monster. His mother gave him a bell to ring if something scared him as he lay in bed. He rang it all the time. His parents were understanding and compassionate. His sister was not. It got so that one of the parents had to sleep with Chris to get him to calm down, relax and slumber. That meant his parents didn’t get much sleep at all.

He did have two friends on the island—Herbie and Jane– who shared his adventures. They had their own issues. In their way they help each other to resolve their issues.

They are taking canoe lessons with a young instructor named Keith—who is a hippy—and his relaxed, philosophical attitude towards life helps them all face their demons and move on. I guess it’s always the way—you need someone completely separate from family and friends to get a clear idea of how to solve the problem.

The Production. The play, The Darkest Dark is based on Chris Hadfield’s kid’s book “The Darkest Dark”. It’s been adapted for the stage specifically for Young People’s Theatre by Jim Millan and Ian MacIntyre.

I think the adaptation is sweet, whimsical, informative in illuminating Chris’s (Ziska Louis) curiosity about space, knowledge of rockets, the workings of space ships, and all manner of stuff in the heavens. I love that the adaptors illuminated Chris’s parents’ kindness and understanding. The parents kiss him good night, especially his father.

As Chris, Ziska Louis is full of curiosity, energy, determination, and concern about his on-going problems of facing his demons in the dark. When Chris is just a kid playing with his friends, he is confident, in control, energetic, creative—he makes all sorts of space-helmets and other necessities and creates many space games that challenge and keep them forward thinking. Chris is a natural born leader.

Aurora Browne plays Chris’s mother, with kindness, compassion for his issues, but at times her consideration wanes. She is a lovely presence as the mother, but with a hint of exasperation. As Chris’s Dad, Craig Lauzon is caring, understanding, and he too shows compassion for this young kid who is terrified at night. He is never chiding or ‘critical’ but always tries to find a gentle way to get Chris to change his behaviour.

Jim Millan’s direction is lively, energetic, poignant, funny and smart. He keeps the pace up but also illuminates exquisitely intimate moments, in particular those with Craig Lauzon as Chris’s Dad was loving and kind, trying to convince Craig to calm down and sleep so he would be well rested for his friends.

It’s always interesting to see a show with the audience it was meant for—kids—young teens. There were moments when the kids fidgeted—always a true marker that their attention was waning. But there were moments that also got them jumping out of their seats, so I guess it evens out.

Anna Treusch’s colourful, neon-vibrant looking set is one long dazzle and that goes for her costumes as well. Interspersed are Daniele Guevara videos/newsreels of the times to give it an authentic flavour. Certainly seeing the newsreel of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon for the first time was moving for those who were alive to see it firsthand in 1969. And there are videos of Chris Hadfield going into his spaceship.   

Comment. If there is a moral to this show, it’s that we all must have dreams of what we want to become etc.  And we must do everything to make our dreams come true, no matter the difficulty.

Young People’s Theatre

Plays until April 2, 2023.

Running time: 70 minutes


It’s been three years since I was able to go to London with a group of theatre lovers. This is the first play in a week of terrific theatre.

Live and in person at the Garrick Theatre, London, England until Feb. 25.

Adapted by Neil Bartlett

From the novel by Virginia Woolf

Directed by Michael Grandage

Set and costumes by Peter McKintosh

Lighting by Howard Hudson

Composer and sound designed by Alex Baranowski

Cast: Jessica Alade

Debra Baker

Akuc Bol

Lucy Briers

Richard Cant

Emma Corrin

Melissa Lowe

Jodie McNee

Oliver Wickham

Millicent Wong

A wild ride through history of gender issues, identity, misogyny, the subjugation of women, the exalted place of men through the ages and how clothes can make and hide ‘the man’. Terrific performance by Emma Corrin as Orlando.

Background: Virginia Woolf calls this fanciful work of fiction, “A Biography” and she uses her great friend and lover Vita Sackville-West as her model. Both women were devoted to their respective husbands but Vita and Virginia had a particularly close and passionate relationship. It produced a vibrant book of love letters between them and of course with Virginia Woolf, we have the literary masterpiece, “Orlando.” Gender fluidity, gender issues, non-binary….Virginia Woolf was writing about these hot-button topics almost 100 years ago and making reference to them five centuries ago.   

The Story. Virginia Woolf wrote the novel, “Orlando,” in 1928, the year women won the vote in Britain. This is part of the first line of the novel: “He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it–…..” Virginia Woolf began her novel in the 16th century. With that first line, Ms. Woolf could have been talking about the present day in the 21st century. The novel has been described as “A brilliantly imagined pageant of English  history, society and literature, “Orlando” is also a witty, feminist reappraisal of the nature of the sexes.”

Orlando is born in the Elizabethan age to wealth and position. He is a lusty young nobleman at the beginning of the novel and three centuries later is a modern woman living under the dictates of society’s rules of how a woman should behave, meaning she should be at home tending the house, having babies and being beholden to her husband.

The Production. Playwright Neil Bartlett adapted Virginia Woolf’s novel into a swift play of 90 minutes without losing any of the novel’s freshness, whimsy, topicality, historical references or the timeliness of the subject matter. The language is bracing and witty.

A tall, slim woman enters. She is dressed in a long skirt, simple blouse and a long sweater. She wears sensible shoes. She carries a book and a pencil. She is followed by another woman dressed exactly the same way. And another and another, until there are eight actors dressed the same way.  Ahha, they are all Virginia Woolf and they are making notes for a future novel. Perhaps “Orlando” is the novel she is working on. Each person playing Virginia Woolf has a word or two and then one more person speaks the lines and one is startled. While this Virginia Woolf is graceful and the hands embrace and caress the air, the voice is decidedly male. Aha, a look at the program reveals that Richard Cant plays one of the Virginia Woolfs. Cant’s hands are terrific in capturing the femininity and elegance of Virginia Woolf. Oliver Wickham plays one of the Virginias as well and understudies the role of Orlando. I love the gender fluidity of casting and in playing Virginia absolutely ‘straight’ (no pun intended). In all cases the actors are being true to Neil Bartlett’s idea of the character of Virginia.

Orlando (Emma Corrin) makes his entrance (for at this point in the play, 1600, Orlando is a young, vibrant man) wearing a shortish, white night shirt. He stretches his hands upward, revealing a prodigious appendage poking out. You’re not sure you saw what you just saw, but you did. Beautiful silk breeches and fitted finery are put on him by various attendants. Emma Corrin as Orlando is fine-featured, confident and inquisitive about everything. Orlando as this compelling young man is also keenly aware of his alure and effect on women. He continues for 100 years being the center of his universe until one day he goes to sleep for seven days and wakes up a woman.

At this point Emma Corrin as Orlando who is now a woman has a softer voice, more delicate ways and is aware of a different world for women. This continues for another three hundred years. One example of the new world is when Orlando marries the love of her life and is appalled that part of the marriage ceremony is the requirement for her to love, honour and obey her husband. She yells out, “obey?” in horror…

Guiding both the male and female Orlando through the centuries is Mrs. Grimsditch (Debra Baker), a kind of narrator/chorus about the changing worlds Orlando journeys through. At one Mrs. Grimsditch comments that “The nineteenth century did nothing for women.” It’s a terrific line. Ordinarily the part of Mrs. Grimsditch is played by the wondrous Deborah Findlay. But she was indisposed so her understudy, Debra Baker did the role with sass, verve and an off-handed directness. She was terrific.  Also compelling is Millicent Wong as one of the Virginias but especially Sasha, a mysterious Russian woman Orlando (the man) met and was besotted by. As Sasha, Millicent Wong plays her with such confidence and arrogance it was fascinating watching her toy with Orlando who spent decades toying with others.

Director Michael Grandage directs with assurance. Much of the staging is almost balletic it’s so beautifully choreographed. Orlando (both as a man and as a woman) is dressed and undressed with ease as he/she is surrounded by characters who create a sense of mystery—we never see him/her naked. In one instance Orlando puts her arms up, and a frock cascades over the arms covering the body, followed by other adornments that complete the look of whatever century we are in. The dressing/undressing is quick, efficient and also theatrical.

Comment. Orlando is a smart, brisk, witty adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s dense, challenging, brilliantly perceptive novel. And in Emma Corrin we have an actor of such beguiling charm and ability that they (Emma Corrin is non-binary) are convincing as Orlando as both a man and a woman.

Closed: Feb. 25, 2023.

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission).


Live and in person at the Theatre Center, Franco Boni Theatre, Produced by Theatre Conspiracy. Plays until Feb. 25, 2023.

Created by David Mesiha

This is how the show is described: “This boundary-pushing piece utilizes mirrors, immersive projection and surround sound to bathe, and sometimes plunge, audiences into ever-shifting cognitive and spatial perspectives. Audiences are encouraged to move through this dynamic installation to witness a variety of signs and sounds that continually alter the participant’s experience.”

They aren’t kidding, this show is ‘boundary-pushing.’ We enter the space one by one, asked if we want to have a picture/video taken for future use. We are then led into the performing space. If one is sight impaired the very low light might be an issue until one becomes used to the dark that is illuminated in patches at various points in the installation. We can look in mirrors and see our face illuminated. If we look again, we see our whole body.

Pools of light are inviting. As I stand in the center of the light, I hear a faint sound. On the floor  is a speaker and if you crouch down and listen it’s a man talking about his immigrant experience. Depending on where you stand in the light the sound is either faint or louder. In one pool of light I was crouching down and someone said to stand away from it where he was and the sound was louder and clear. There were recordings of people who were forced to leave their countries and move somewhere else. There were beams of light that almost looked like artwork in themselves. Light formed squares on the floor that then changed into pulsing overlapping patterns.

Questions were asked: What do you look like? How did you come to look like that? How do you walk? Questions that make us wonder at the answer. We are mindful of where we are in the dark and who is around us. Movements are careful, respectful, and awareness of our space, heightened.

Photos were flashed on screens in various configurations. They changed and perhaps remained the same. Some were hazy some were not. If one revisited a section the view/perception was different because the installation was always changing as was our perception.

David Mesiha has created a complex, subtle, provocative installation to challenge our every perception. Wonderful.

The Theatre Centre Presents a Theater Conspiracy installation

Opened: Feb. 15, 2023.

Closes: Feb. 25, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour.


Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont. Playing from Feb. 16-26, 2023.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by James Wallis

Sound design by Matt Nish-Lapidus

Cast: Mairi Babb

Daniel Briere

Tristan Claxton

Steven Hao

Madelaine Hodges

Melanie Leon

David Mackett

Ngabo Nabea

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Deivan Steele

Breanne Tice

Scott Wentworth

Ben Yaganathan

A clear, precise interpretation of the play with a fierce, poignant and very moving performance by Scott Wentworth as King Lear.

It’s been three years since Shakespeare BASH’d has done a production, and they have come back with a vengeance with this production of The Tragedy of King Lear after being shut down by COVID.

Co-artistic directors, James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus love Shakespeare. They formed Shakespeare BASH’d in 2010 and have produced over 20 productions. Their focus is to make classical theatre ‘welcoming, inviting and social.’ They also “seek to synthesize the classical with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, joy, investigation, truth, and love.”

The sets are spare but the productions are fully explored, developed, thought-through, researched and totally engaging. James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus don’t do anything weird with their productions, like set it on the moon, played in tomato aspic, or performed by three actors and a turtle. They might change the gender of a character but it’s done with integrity and intelligence.

The Tragedy of King Lear is a case in point. James Wallis directs the production at the Theatre Centre, in the Incubator. The playing space is square and ‘sunken’ by two steps, with the audience sitting on all four sides. The stage is bare except for furniture that is covered with a white sheet at the stage right side. Under the sheet is a sturdy chair (Lear’s throne) and some benches. That is the only furniture. The clothes are modern with the men in pants shirts and tops. Lear’s three daughters are in stylish slacks and heels or a dress and higher heels.

I assume you know the story so won’t review—high school English class is sometimes indelible. Scott Wentworth, as King Lear, needs no introduction—he is a stalwart of the Stratford Festival. Shakespeare’s words swirl around his mouth as if he’s eating something delicious. He conveys that joy of the ‘chewing’ to the audience. This is an actor who ponders and polishes every single word he speaks. An inflection on a word we don’t expect produces a whole new meaning. We think we know the play and then Wentworth has his way with us and takes us deeper into the character and the play.

Scott Wentworth is so clear in his journey from being a robust King, in command of everything he does, to gradually being diminished as his courtiers challenge him, and Goneril and Regan (a dandy Melanie Leon and Madelaine Hodges respectively), try to reason with him about visiting them monthly with a retinue they can’t sustain. The doubt about his sanity appears subtly in a furrowed brow, a questioning in the eyes. He becomes impatient with the need to explain and ‘reason.’ And then he swirls deeper down the rabbit hole of uncertainty, madness and finally clarity. It’s a masterful performance.

James Wallis directs with a sure hand and a dandy sense of the whimsical. When the Fool (a lively, thoughtful Julia Nish-Lapidus) brings on an umbrella in the storm scene, she pushes the button on the umbrella and the clear plastic umbrella pops up, sort of. It’s actually squished. It does unfurl, but rather than a bubble, it’s a bit squished at the top—a perfect umbrella for the Fool. It takes the ordinary and makes it noticeable.

In the scene when Gloucester (a serious, forthright David Mackett) is about to be blinded by Cornwall (a dangerous Daniel Briere), there is much screaming and leg-raising by Gloucester to give us a gut-wrenching sense of what is going on. Then Cornwall goes after the second eye, this time with a knife. This is not a spoiler alert. This is a WARNING!!!!! And it’s finished with a flourish resulting in a sound like EWWWWWW from us. Perfect.  

When Lear carries on the dead Cordelia (come on, you knew this!) Wentworth is strong in holding Breanne Tice as the loving Cordelia. But he is at the landing of the stage. Two steps lead him down into the playing area. It can be treacherous carrying a person, and having to go down two steps. James Wallis solves this beautifully. Kent (a forceful, loyal Mairi Babb), Albany (an honourable Ben Yoganathan) and Edgar (a courtly Ngabo Nabea) all come forward to take Cordelia out of his arms and carry her to the stage and also lead the grieving Lear down the two stairs. Wallis has created a sense of loving community in that heartbreaking scene. Terrific.

This is a wonderful production of The Tragedy of King Lear.

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: Feb. 16, 2023

Closes: Feb. 26, 2023.

Running time: 3 hours, (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. A Rolling world premiere of Redbone Coonhound. An Arts Club Silver Commission as part of a rolling world premiere with Tarragon Theatre and Imago Theatre (Montreal). Playing at Tarragon until March 5, 2023.

Written by Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton

Directed by Micheline Chevrier with Kwaku Okyere

Set by Jawon Kang

Costumes by Nalo Soyini Bruce

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Projections by Frank Donato

Animator, Dezmond Arnkvarn

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Christopher Allen

Kwesi Ameyaw

Lucinda David

Brian Dooley

Deborah Drakeford

Jesse Dwyre

 Chala Hunter

A deliberately broadly performed and directed, often emotionally heightened production that is less a fully realized play and more a check-list of issues, tropes and clichéd characters that will provoke, challenge, trigger and unsettle the audience without actually exploring the issues.

Background: Redbone Coonhound is co-written by Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton who are an interracial couple in real life.  They have this interesting note in the programme: “Navigating life through an intersectional lens means the constant exchange of vastly different lived experiences. We are a daily witness to each other’s growth, joy and heartaches, and as writers we document, mold and repurpose these experiences and memories in ways that help us understand the world around us a bit better. We laugh a lot, too.”

The Story. This is what the synopsis says of the play-I quote it here, because I want to see what they think the play is about:

“Mike and Marissa are an interracial couple, out for a walk in their West End Vancouver neighborhood. (Mike is Black and Marissa is white). They meet a dog with an unfortunate breed name: Redbone Coonhound. This small detail unleashes a cascading debate between them about race and their relationship that manifests as a series of micro-plays, each satirizing contemporary perspectives on modern culture.

Through its hard-hitting comedic elements, Redbone Coonhound explores the intricacies of subtle and overt polemics of race, systemic power, and privilege, in remarkable, surprising and hilarious ways. A wild and subversive journey back through history and into the future, Redbone Coonhound reveals deep fears, rage, insecurities, and ultimately, hope.”

I just wish that Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton actually wrote that play they describe above.

Instead, what the playwrights cover here is a checklist of topics, tropes and cliched characters without actually exploring the issues. It’s like flicking a red flag to engage, but that doesn’t make it a play.

To expand on the story, production and comment. While the play takes place in Vancouver and there are references to the beautiful landscape, Jawon Kang’s stark, brutalist set suggests an ultra-modern setting without any warmth or beauty.  Nalo Soyini Bruce’s costumes are stylish and hip, and I’m sure there is symbolism in that everybody wears red trainers, but the message escapes me.

When Mike (Christopher Allen) and Marissa (Chala Hunter) are out walking they meet the frisky, friendly dog named John and his two owners, Jeffrey (Brian Dooley) and Camille (Deborah Drakeford). Jeffrey and Camille are text-book thoughtless fools with a dog. The dog is not trained nor on a leash. When someone tells them to put their dog on a leash, Camille of yells “Fascist.”

The owners yell “JOHN!!” for the dog to come and he ignores them until they are screaming JOHN!!!!! for him to come and he finally does. When John sees Mike he smells him, is all over him, surrounding him, sniffing, licking, etc. and Mike is terrified. Note: There is no actual dog on stage. With careful choreography/staging from director Micheline Chevrier, with Kwaku Okyere and Christopher Allen’s energetic movement as Mike, it’s suggested that John is all over Mike, and Mike is terrified as his movement gets more and more exaggerated. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound of a dog barking, gives a sense of John’s size and how Mike would be terrified. Wonderfully done.  

Jeffrey and Camille are insensitive to Mike’s terror, saying that John is really a friendly dog. Marissa tries to be supportive but somehow Mike rebuffs her. When Mike asks what kind of dog it is—and hears Redbone Coonhound, he is horrified. He’s horrified first because of its offensive but actual name and then because it conjures all sorts of images of that kind of dog being used to hunt not only, small animals like a racoon, but also larger ones and it’s suggested, fugitives during the time of slavery in the United States, where the breed was ‘perfected’. This incident stays with Mike. He is testy with Marissa. She says she understands what he must be going through—I’m wondering how she could even imagine what he is going through.

They bicker. It’s a fight that seems odd—surely they would have had this discussion about people’s insensitivity, veiled racism, and systemic power before? Or is Mike’s anger, lingering from elsewhere and is misplaced anger.

In his first appearance with Marissa Mike laments that once again he is engaged to talk about Black History Month to a class of school children who are clueless about the history of Black people in Canada or racism or anything else that pertains to his life. He is tired and done with trying to educate about Black History month. No mention is made of why that is or how it can be changed.  

Mike seems constantly testy about the way he’s treated and Marissa can do nothing to calm him. Mike has conversations with Black friends who also chide him. Aisha (a commanding Lucinda Davis) challenges every complaint of Mike’s. He complains about the power of whites, but she counters by saying that he married a white woman. Mike says that Marissa is different. He says there were no Black women that he found compatible. Aisha notes that she’s standing right there. She has found a Black man as her partner with no trouble and brings him to Mike and Marissa’s house for an evening get together.

That man is Gerald (Kwesi Ameyaw), a police officer who listens patiently to Mike but finally can’t take it anymore and who accuses Mike of being a narcissist in which every problem affects only him. It’s the only conversation in the production that is equally balanced with Gerald being thoughtful in his arguments and Mike never seeing any side of the story but his own. If any idea should be developed, that is certainly it. Mike then calls Gerald a horrible pejorative name and it’s not the ‘n’ word. It’s a word full of contempt. (it’s in the title of the play).

As Mike, Christopher Allen imbues Mike with quiet pride but a constant simmering anger at what he must endure as a Black man in the world. Chala Hunter as Marissa is the ever accommodating partner who is rebuffed and tries to stand up for her rights, and can’t win. Lucinda Davis in various roles is commanding, confident and impressive. Kwesi Ameyaw offers another voice of reason that is clear and perceptive in dealing with Mike and his constant anger.

There are several ‘mini-playlets’ that try to illuminate some aspect of the check-list of issues. Rather than being ‘satiric’ as is described I found them merely laboured and deliberately broadly directed.

There is a scene with a run-away slave looking for Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad. Two over-accented characters—one a man trying to be an ally, the other his female companion, who is demeaned as a woman and treated like a pack horse. Subtext laid on with a trowel.

Another playlet involves the parents of a white girl who has brought home a boyfriend she wants to marry, who is—horrors—white. The parents, also white did not raise her that way. They raised her to go to a Black college (Howard), and marry interracially. Matters spiral out of DNA control as they try to find some trace of Black ancestry in the young man’s family.

Then there is the playlet that takes place in the future, in outer space on a spaceship with only Black personnel to create a pure colony of Black people without a trace of racism.

It’s as if the playwrights wanted to dissect each subject from racism, to internal racism, to misogyny to allyship to Harriet Tubman, or relationships as points of debate. What is missing is a cohesive whole to make the play look like something other than just a checklist of complaints, whines, hurts, insults, and sufferings at the insensitivity of thoughtless people. I also think it wishful thinking that the play ends on a hopeful note—it is a lovely thought but the ending is not earned in the context of what went before.

While I found the synopsis of the play intriguing I also was captivated by the description of how the playwrights navigate and discuss their own many and various experiences, and learn from each other. Now wouldn’t that make an interesting play? All in all, I think Redbone Coonhound needs another go round of thinking, discussion of the two playwrights and then another draft of an actual play.

Tarragon Theatre in collaboration with Imago Theatre (Montreal) in an Arts Club Silver Commission, presents:

Opened: Feb. 15, 2023.

Closes: March 5, 2023.

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)

Redbone Coonhound plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until March 5.



by Lynn on February 14, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Feb. 18, 2023.

Written and performed by Beryl Bain

Directed by Marcel Stewart

Set by Michael Gordon Spence

Costume design by Des’ree Gray

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Sound by Floydd Ricketts

Projections by Jason J. Brown

Playwright/performer Beryl Bain and her director, Marcel Stewart have presented an intriguing dip into the eventful but short life of Bessie Coleman, the first Black-Indigenous American woman to get her pilot’s license. She took that love of flying and performed at various fairs and exhibitions.

Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 to sharecroppers. Her father left the family which meant that Bessie had to take care of her little sister, which their mother earned a living. Her mother taught Bessie about tenacity, responsibility, and the value of work.

Playwright Beryl Bain focused her play The Flight in the Roaring 20s with its heady atmosphere and endless possibilities.

The play begins with a projection of a newsreel of Bessie Coleman standing beside a plane. As the commentator talks about Bessie there is a commotion in the theatre where we are watching the newsreel. A woman in breeches, a fitted jacket and hair tied back gets up objecting to what we are watching, saying that isn’t the real Bessie Coleman, that’s an actress. The woman making the fuss says she is the real Bessie Coleman (Beryl Bain). She goes up onto the stage and begins to tell us of her life.

Director Marcel Stewart  uses a simple ladder to suggest those scenes where Bessie flies. Beryl Bain as Bessie climbs the ladder, sits on the top of it and Jason J. Brown’s various projections of Bessie flying are projected on the back wall. The projections create a great sweep of the sky and the freedom Bessie must have felt being up there.

Beryl Bain is a commanding presence as Bessie Coleman. Coleman had a patron who helped with funding that got her to Paris where she got her pilot’s license. She performed for the public by flying. She survived one crash. She saved money working at a manicurist so she could buy her own plane. She was finally successful in having her own plane but it was faulty and she crashed during a show in Florida in 1926, and didn’t survive. She was 34.

I say at the beginning that this is an intriguing dip into the life of Bessie Coleman because what Beryl Bain has written and explored seems to skim the surface. She has whetted our appetite for more information and I hope she expands her play. I’d like to know more about Bessie Coleman’s parents and especially her absent father. What did Bessie study at university when she went for a year and why did she only study for a year. I would love the idea of discovering aviation explored and expanded. How did she meet her patron and why did he take a chance on this unknown, but determined young woman. What about the racism Bessie endured, there is slight reference to that. Was the person in the newsreel really an actress and not the real Bessie? That’s confusing. I think Bessie’s life and her stint in Chicago in the Roaring 20s can be explored as well. Lots of possibilities. I look forward to Beryl Bain’s next incarnation of The Flight.

Queen Bess Productions in association with Theatre Gargantua, b.current Performing Arts, and Roseneath Theatre present:

Opened: Feb. 10, 2023.

Closes: Feb. 18, 2023

Running time: 1 hour