Live and in person at VideoCabaret, 10 Busy St. Toronto, Ont. until June 5, 2022.

www.VideoCab.com

Written by Michael Hollingsworth

Directed by Mac Fyfe and Michael Hollingsworth

Costumes by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill

Lighting by Andrew Dollar

Sound and score by Richard Feren

Wig designed by Alice Norton

Props designed by Shadowland

Projection design by Maxim Bortnowski

Cast: Aurora Browne

Valerie Buhagiar

Greg Campbell

Richard Alan Campbell

Richard Clarkin

Kimwun Perehinec

Cliff Saunders

Canadian history given the VideoCabaret treatment, meaning it’s sharp, irreverent, pointed, dark and very funny. Yes and we all lament that history isn’t taught as entertainingly as this in school.

Story and performance. The beauty of a VideoCabaret show is that you can’t really separate the story from the way it’s performed. When Michael Hollingsworth and his late (great) co-founder Deanne Taylor created VideoCabaret in 1976 they wanted to combine the world of video (projections, newsreels, tv. etc.) and the irreverent world of cabaret—live performance. The productions are performed in a ‘black box’ of a stage with various levels in it. Scenes are no more than one minute long and are accompanied by heightened, ‘cheesy’ music for melodramatic effect. Lighting is bright against the black background and often characters enter and exit a cone of light for their scenes. Costumes, wigs, props and make-up is exaggerated for full effect.

The production of The Cold War – Part 1 begins in 1945 with a newsreel showing the dropping of the atomic bomb on either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, ending the war. It then segues to the live performance of women who built the tanks, guns and ammunition in the factories while the men were away, fighting. The women were proud of their contributions. Then the announcement came that the war was over (cheers); their men were coming home (more cheers), and thanks for all the hard work but you can go back to being housewives again cause the men will be taking over the jobs (looks of disappointment and confusion out to the audience). Writer, Michael Hollingsworth always finds the darkness in a situation and deals with it with a barb of humour.

What follows are scenes that deal with the politics and the nasty backroom deals that cheat the opponent out of elections, or involve graft to get pipelines built that disadvantages Canada but always gives an advantage to the United States. There are scenes involving Russian spy Igor Gouzenko (Richard Alan Campbell), Mackenzie King (Cliff Saunders), a slippery wimp of a Prime Minister, the blustery but endearing John Diefenbaker (Richard Clarkin), some duplicitous psychological experimentation on unsuspecting souls using damaging drugs that turned them into ‘zombies,’ and politically charged events such as the Suez Canal.

Writer, Michael Hollingsworth distills the huge amount of history of Canada in this Cold War Period and finds the nasty truth and the cutting joke that illuminates it all. The Cold War-Part I is co-directed by Mac Fyfe and Michael Hollingsworth with the requisite attention to detail that packs each short scene with nuance. At the last moment of a scene, a character looks out at the audience, gives a sly smile or a frown of doubt or look that adds irony to the proceedings and puts a different spin on the meaning. It is all a cohesive piece. If there is a quibble it’s that the pace lags a bit in some scenes that deal with exposition.

As always, the costumes by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill are properly overstated, appropriately garish and beautifully express the personality of the characters. For example, the boxy jacket of Zubutin, (a Russian military man) with pointy shoulders, laden with medals says everything about this arrogant, condescending character whose clothes speak to his power. Added to that is Richard Clarkin’s sneer as Zubutin and smarmy delivery and you have perfection. Andrew Dollar’s stark lighting adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. Alice Norton’s wig designs are explosions of curls, marcelled waves, flips and exaggerated swoops, again to illuminate characters. Cliff Saunders as various characters manages to move his wig with a shift of his forehead for hilarious results. Richard Feren’s sound and score captures the melodramatic nature of the enterprise and focuses attention to moments of importance and humour. The exaggerated, oversized props of Shadowland, be it Mackenzie King’s twitchy-red-tongued-dog, or Roosevelt’s elongated cigarette holder, or the large vials of Dr. Ewen Cameron’s mind destroying drugs, conjures images that enhances each scene.

The acting company is exemplary. They each play many characters and every one is clear, distinct, and if playing a real person, captures that person to perfection. It’s impossible to pick one example but: Aurora Browne makes us squirm when she plays Mary Muffet in a dastardly mind-bending experiment; Valerie Buhagiar is sultry and dangerous as Natasha, a Russian spy; Greg Campbell as Tom Muffet, is the stereotypical husband who wants to be served dinner immediately when he gets home—we love to hate this guy; Richard Alan Campbell is a watchful Igor Gouzenko; Richard Clarkin nails Diefenbaker from his toothy smile to his puffed up self; Kimwun Perehinec is whiny and wonderfully annoying as the child Nancy Muffet and Cliff Saunders is a mass of twitches and business as the easy to manipulate Mackenzie King and the jovial Lester Pearson among others. All wonderful work.

This is the first performance of VideoCabaret since the pandemic closed the theatre and since the death of co-founder Deanne Taylor who died in Dec. 2020. Her spirit is all over that building. After the company bow, Greg Campbell introduced a tribute to Ms Taylor. It was a silent video/home movie of a young girl in a dress interacting with an older man while the credits of the evening rolled over the video. For those who knew Deanne Taylor, the face of the young girl was unmistakably a young Deanne Taylor. For those who didn’t know her they would have been mystified. I think this video was too ‘insider-information’ and not helpful in its intent. And you couldn’t read the credits because the writing was light scrolling over a light background. It would have been better to scroll the credits on the black wall beside the video.

And what better tribute to Deanne Taylor than just to project on the wall her beguiling picture (that’s on the inside of the program) underneath which would be the dates of her birth and death and that she was the co-founder of VideoCabaret. The attempt at a tribute to Deanne Taylor with that video was a missed opportunity.

However, the production of The Cold War-Part I is terrific.  

VideoCabaret Presents:

Plays until: June 5, 2022

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Opened: May 5, 2022.

I saw it, May 10, 2022

www.VideoCab.com

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Live and in person at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre, Greenwin Theatre, Meridian Arts Centre, 5040 Yonge St. Toronto, Ont.  until. May 15, 2022.

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

Written by Alix Sobler

Directed by Avery Saltzman

Set designed by Brian Dudkiewicz

Sound designed by Lyon Smith

Costumes designed by Alex Amini

Lighting Designed by Siobhán Sleath

Cast: Mairi Babb

Darrin Baker

Sarah Gibbons

Tal Gottfried

Lawrence Libor

A sobering, earnest look at the life of immigrant Jews in New York City in 1911 as they toiled in a terrible sweatshop with horrible results.

The Story. Rosa and her friends have gathered to tell a story as a play. It is less about entertainment and more about bearing witness. They have done this before with variations but this time seems particularly important.

Rosa describes life in Russia for Jews at the beginning of the 20th century: pogroms, racism; freezing weather, hunger, poverty, little opportunity for a better life there. She dreams of going to American where life is better. Women can work, earn a living, be educated and make a better life. Her brother Avram choses to stay in Russia believing he can make a difference there. Rosa and her sister Saidie and Saidie’s husband go by ship to New York. It’s a rough journey but hope for a better life is high.

Rosa gets a job in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company as a seamstress. The work is arduous, the hours are long, the pay is minimal and the working conditions are horrible. She makes friends and is intrigued with a firebrand named Clara who urges the works to form a union for better conditions and pay. Rosa attracts the attention of Jacob, a cutter at the factory who professes his love. Rosa is hesitant.

With the telling of the story/play we learn that it ended horribly—this is not a spoiler because it’s noted throughout the telling.

The Production and comment. Brian Dudkiewicz’s set is evocative of the dingy factory. The back wall is black as if sooty, as in the remnants of a fire. Benches are used to suggest a change of location. Suitcases of the various immigrants are placed around the set from which characters will get props. Very efficient. Alex Amini’s costumes suggest the poor immigrant life: well-worn clothes.  Lyon Smith’s sound scape is subtle and very effective as we hear the distant rumble of the fire, that would become full of screams as people were trapped in their sewing room because the door was locked to prevent theft, and the elevator didn’t work.  Because of that fire, 146 workers died, most of them young women. Avery Saltzman’s staging is efficient and not flashy.

There is a compelling earnestness in the telling of the story because as Rosa (Tal Gottfried) says they have to make sure that they mattered, because without the fire she says that nobody would have cared about them. Rosa had to be convinced by the other characters that conditions improved after that. In fact the fire was considered the worst in the city until that ‘milestone’ was surpassed elsewhere in the world with worse situations: Bangladesh, China etc.  

I did wonder for whom were they ‘performing’ the play and when Rosa would come forward, I realized it was for the modern audience. The character of Rosa is hard-nosed, full of conviction when she wants to do something, single-minded and unbending when Jacob (a caring Lawrence Libor) professes his love for her. She just can’t commit. When she was faced with a decision in that terrible fire she gives a moving speech of what she wants from life, but again, she is faced with an important decision and can’t make it. I also thought it interesting that Rosa never actually ‘asked’ the modern audience to note their sacrifice she just assumed they wouldn’t care. I think the decision by playwright Alix Sobler to make Rosa unbending weakened her a touch.

Because the material is so earnest, I found that often the cast ‘declared’ their positions rather than presented them, in an effort to heighten the importance of what they were saying. We get it. Please bring the level of expression down a few notches.

The Great Divide recounts a heartbreaking, unsettling story of immigrant life for Jewish immigrants in American with commitment. The guts and sacrifice it took those people to come to a new country is there in the play. No matter where they landed we are the beneficiaries of that conviction.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre presents:

Plays until: May 15, 2022.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

www.hgjewishtheatre.com

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Live and in person, produced by One Four One Collective at the Assembly Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until May 8, 2022.

www.theassemblytheatre.com

Written by Michael Ross Albert

Directed by Marie Farsi

Set and costumes by Marie Farsi and design consultant, Alexandra Lord

Sound designed by Andy Trithardt

Lighting designed by Chin Palipane

Cast: Jamie Cavanagh

Breanna Dillon

Cass Van Wyck

A production that goes like the wind of a play that captures the cut-throat world of ‘the office’ with razor sharp dialogue and situations we all recognize.

The Story. There’s been a break-in at a tech company. The police have been called and the employees have been alerted that they all will be interviewed by the police to tell them what they know. Iris, one of the administrators of the company has called a company meeting for all the employees, including those around the world to address the situation. She has an important power-point presentation and needs the undivided attention of everybody. Iris has just returned from an extended leave and she’s raring to go to show people she is back and she’s in charge. Shelley (Iris’ temporary replacement) is also there to see that things run smoothly. Pete, one of the tech programmers is there but is anxious to leave for his bachelor party that will be at a destination. He gets married in a week. And then everything begins to go wrong with the meeting.

The Production. The set by Marie Farsi and Alexandra Lord is spare: two potted ferns, a long, white empty table with three chairs, with a phone and a remote control on the table. The remote control is for an unseen screen needed for Iris’ presentation. The remote is not working. Iris (Breanna Dillon) is livid. She calls tech support and reams them out only to have to back up because she’s being rude and the person on the other end of the phone does not appreciate it. She is impatient to know how this could happen. Shelley (Cass Van Wyck) nervously tries to explain itemizing all the things she has done to ensure things worked smoothy. Pete (Jamie Cavanagh) is impatient to leave, and thinks this power-point presentation is a waste of time. Emotions between Pete and Iris ramp up. He thinks she’s a micro-manager and a control freak and much prefers Shelley. He says that the whole office likes Shelley (who is there on a contract just until Iris returns), that she is efficient, pleasant and approachable. Territory is marked out.

Playwright Michael Ross Albert and Andy Trithardt the creative sound designer for The Huns load the conference call with every conceivable glitch that we’ve all come to expect from such technology: people are late joining the call; others don’t show up at all (such as the travelling CEO of the company), he sends his wife instead to be on the call and she has interference with high winds—she’s outside–; others have tech problems resulting in wabbly voices and the messages are distorted; some leave the meeting for other meetings; somebody calling remotely wants a little recap because he’s missed some information. Iris tries to field all this with ever diminishing patience. Shelley calmly tries to be helpful and Pete just wants to get out of there.

I did think that while all that techno-glitch stuff was very funny because we’ve all experienced this before, and did present challenges to Iris, I had the slight feeling this was a bit of padding to the production. I realize it was important to extend what was supposed to be a 15-minute power-point presentation by Iris, but less would have been just as effective. Just an observation.

Playwright Michael Ross Albert has proven with his previous plays: Tough Jews and Two Minutes to Midnight that he is a gifted writer of cutting humour. His dialogue is divine. He has a keen ability to make perceptive observations of people in various situations and illuminating seemingly ordinary situations to show how extraordinary they are when they come all in a rush.

Each of his characters is a case in point. Iris has been away for some time and the rumors are rife as to why. She knows she has to come back and make a definite statement that she is in charge. She is chic, sleek and dressed for success and to suggest power. She wears high heels that would announce her coming and going on the hard floor. She has been up since 5:30 am sending e-mails to the staff, arranging the conference call and preparing her multi-page power point presentation. She is controlling and one realizes very insecure.

As Iris, Breanna Dillon gives orders with a barely concealed irritation. She is quick to suggest that all these problems are Shelley’s fault (they aren’t); she never thanks her for taking over for her while she is away, and like every insecure person is very watchful of the weaknesses of others and how to chip at them.

As Pete, Jamie Cavanaugh, knows the culture of that company and knows the kind of controlling bully that Iris is. He is a bold adversary to Iris’ conniving. He calls her out “you’re throwing Shelley under the bus.” Cavanaugh has an engaging energy and plays Pete with arrogant impatience because he knows Iris’ tricks and just wants to get out of there to get his plane and go to his destination bachelor party.

As Shelley, Cass Van Wyck is controlled, accommodating, efficient, calming, and juuuust about at the end of her tether with all these shenanigans. She knows how she figures into that office culture, how she is appreciated, how efficient she is, but she also is facing the person she was replacing. There is that delicate dance of not seeming to be taking over, but also to show she is efficient.

And then Michael Ross Albert adds a twist to his play that goes deeper into the office culture that is a surprise but not unexpected, it’s a deeper look at work in this modern age; there is no such thing as an 8 hour workday for these people; there is the expectation of doing more for less. You can feel the pressure. And Michael Ross Albert illuminates that too.

The production is beautifully directed by Marie Farsi who keeps on ramping up and ramping up the stakes of these characters, in which even silent moments of watchfulness are charged. Voices raise imperceptibly; patience is slowly lost. The audience grips the chair or their butt cheeks as the inevitable happens.

Comment. The Huns is a terrific comedy with lots of deep observations about work, success, and deciding whether or not all the angst is worth it. The production has been invited to perform at the Brighton Fringe Festival in Brighton, England. I suggest that Michael Ross Albert take a large supply of Valium to give to the audience after the performance to relax them. It’s a production that goes like the wind and leaves you breathless.

One Four One Collective Presents:

Plays until: May 8, 2022.

I saw it May 3, 2022.

Running time: 1 bracing hour, no intermission.

www.theassemblytheatre.com

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On demand through Young People’s Theatre of the Georgie Theatre production until May 14, 2022.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

Written by Marcus Youssef

Directed by Mike Payette

Set and costumes designed by Diana Uribe

Lighting designed by Tim Rodrigues

Sound designed by Rob Denton

Video Designer, Amelia Scott

Cast: Skyler Clark

Qianna MacGilchrist

Sepehr Reybod

Amelia Scott

A bracing, important play about racism, perceptions of people considered ‘other’ or privileged and the importance of being in-between.

The Story. Lily is our narrator. She is a young teenager.  She is earnest, conscientious, bubbly, helpful and trusting. Something happened between two of her friends and she was in the middle of it and that was only the beginning.

Lily comments on people’s perceptions of her and where she came from. She says that she is Canadian because her parents are Canadian. Then she offers that she was adopted at six months from Viet Nam by her Canadian parents. She was never curious about her birth parents.

Lily’s best friend is Brit. Brit’s father abandoned the family years before, leaving Brit’s mother to raise her on her own. Brit’s mother suffers from depression that results in her mother not being able to hold down a job. Brit does the best she can to offer comfort and support to her mother but it’s difficult. Often Lily’s parents give money to Brit to tide her and her mother over for rent and food.

Karim is another classmate of Lily and Brit. Karim has liked Lily since grade eight. He finally got up the nerve to tell her this year. Karim came to Canada from Lebanon when he was a child because his successful tech parents wanted better opportunities to make money. Lily thinks they work for Google. Karim is careful to say they are not refugees because other classmates lob racist comments at him saying he’s a terrorist etc. He contends with a lot and doesn’t back down.

When Lily decides to meet Karim one evening instead of going to Brit’s house to give her comfort, Brit texts another schoolmate named Bennie, who is a racist, just to reach out to someone. Bennie sends pictures of Karim and Lily meeting, which sets Brit off and matters spiral.

We learn that racism is a problem in the school. Muslims are targeted with racist slurs and threatening texts and emails. Karim feels that people must stand up to this and put a stop to it. Lily feels she is ‘in-between’ her friends and must decide what to do.

The Production. Director Mike Payette has created a fast-paced production that always focuses on the issues in Marcus Youssef’s play. Diana Uribe’s simple set of three benches are easy to maneuver to change location and scenes. Screens upstage are used to project racist comments from posts and texts. We also see texts between Lily (Qianna MacGilchrist) and Karim (Sepehr Reybold) and Lily and Brit (Skyler Clark). Watching the speed of how each character types the texts and seeing the posts quickly appear projected on the screens ramps up the tension in the scenes. Beautifully done and so spare.

Marcus Youssef has created such a layered, complex play in The In-Between. It’s about racism, fitting in, class differences, senses of entitlement, misunderstanding, misperceptions, the danger of rumor, inuendo, loyalty to one’s friends and friendship.

Lily comes from a loving family who adopted her from Viet Nam. They realize the difficulty that Brit and her mother are going through and try to help with money since they know that Brit’s mother’s depression often prevents her from working. Lily has never questioned where she has come from or seemingly wanted to find out about her culture. It’s Karim who suggests that she look up her birth parents. He’s very clear about who he is and where he came from. He stands up to the racism of Bennie and his mates and tries to suggest that do Lily as well. Karim is proud of his parents’ success and seems almost boastful when he can show Lily their new flash car. Karim’s parents are not refugees and don’t want to be associated with them. Karim carries on that attitude as well, so another kind of ‘ostracism’ occurs with Karim and his attitudes, between him (who is privileged) and refugees (who might have a harder time in adjusting).

And then there is Brit. She’s emotionally wounded, full of worry for her mother’s health issues; worried about money because her mother keeps losing jobs; fraught when Lily doesn’t come over when she said she would, and quickly angry when she finds out Lily was out with Karim instead. She petulantly seeks comfort in a text from Bennie who then escalates the racism from his end.

Marcus Youssef has written a play for our times that is rich in issues we all must address and examine. His characters are totally believable especially when given such sturdy performances by Qianna MacGilchrist as Lily, Skyler Clark as Brit and Sepehr Reybod as Karim.

Comment. Marcus Youssef has tackled thorny issues and made them resonate for a young teen audience. The dialogue is bracing and even cutting. While I appreciate what he has written for his three vibrant characters and how they all deal with racism without pat answers, I would be fascinated to see what Marcus Youssef would do in dealing with the blazing racist hate of the unseen Bennie, the instigator of much of the racist terrorism and unrest in that school. Just a thought. The In-Between is timely, important and necessary.

The Geordie Theatre production presented by Young People’s Theatre:

Plays on demand until May 14, 2022.

Running Time: 45 minutes with a talk-back.

www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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TAOS (The Art of Storytelling)

Live and in person, as part of Why Not Theatre’s RISER at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont. until May 8, 2022

www.theatrecentre.org

Lead curator/performer/producer, B’atz’ Recinos

Directed by Anita La Selva

Choreographer/performer, Lilia León

Lighting designed by Sebastian Marziali

Scenographer,  Rowell Soller

Musical director/band, Y Josephine

Band/performers, Giovanna Galuppo, Anita Graciano

Guest musicians; Pedro, Lwin and Yaxun Mateo

TAOS (The Art of Storytelling) is one of the productions being produced at the Theatre Centre under the RISER ‘umbrella’ of productions, an initiative of Why Not Theatre to give professional mentoring and expertise to immerging companies.

From the production’s information: “TAOS (The Art of Storytelling) is an artistic offering that is rooted in the ancestral theatre tradition, inspired by stories and teachings from the Mayan Popol Vuh. A theatrical journey through cultures, time and space, combining music, poetry, oral storytelling, dance, ritual and performed in three languages: English, Spanish, Maya (K’iche). A retelling of who we are by connecting to our ancestral voices, cosmic energy and the land. A timely story for anyone who has been digging deep to find their roots. For the children of he grey, los mestizxs, mixed bloods, hijxs de la diaspora. TAOS infuses Indigenous traditions with current cultural aesthetics bringing the audience on a theatrical journey through allegory and myth.”

Performance Warning: this show features smudging and the burning of sacred medicines: sage, tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass, copal and palo santo (throughout the performance).

TAOS (The Art of Storytelling) B’atz’ Recinos and his fellow musicians/performers welcomed us into the Incubator of the Theatre Centre and invited those who wished, to be ‘smudged’—purified with the sacred smoke of the burning sacred medicines. Large panels of vibrant artwork were on two walls. There was a section of the sunken stage given over to drums and other musical instruments and microphones. There was another vibrant coloured design that looked symbolic. B’atz’ Recinos’ upper body was painted or tattooed with markings that were evocative of Mayan culture. He also wore pants that allowed for him to move and dance freely about the set.

He began by paying homage to his ancestors in all directions of the room. He said he was going to bring us back to the beginning…to tell the story. His stories told of the beginning of time, when the sun and the moon were created, the animals, the birds. Then came the ‘children of the corn.’ There is a story of the underworld and various myths.

Of course one brings their own teachings, backgrounds and cultures to the production and therefore each story will have a different resonance to the listener. One is mindful of Indigenous stories of creation involving animals. Or one thinks of the Old Testament with some of the stories of creation. Or even ancient Greek literature with the stories of the Underworld. That is the beauty of theatre, no matter how different the culture, theatre bridges our differences and connects us to our similar stories and myths. Indeed at the end he says that “we are all one.” “All our relations.”

While the stories are deep, rich and metaphorical B’atz’ Recinos also infuses his show in various songs presented often as Hip Hop! He is a great follower of Hip Hop and so this ancient retelling evokes the most modern of musical expression. The musicianship of the band is exemplary. The music and the singing are wonderful.

There was a talk-back after the show and after much silence B’atz’ Recinos said that his aim was to “Break down the Western tradition of theatre” and go back to the ancestral theatre tradition.” I must confess I wondered why the Western Tradition of theatre had to be broken down at all—why can’t both forms of theatre, Western Traditional theatre and the ancestral theatre tradition exist side by side–just like people? What is this endless need to break down everything?

Lots to ponder.

Produced by Creative Mafia Arts

Plays until: May 8, 2022.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

www.theatrecentre.org

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Live and in person at Theatre Orangeville, Orangeville, Ont. until May 15, 2022.

www.theatreorangeville.ca

LiveStream on May 7th at 2pm. Pre-Order NOW ⬇ 

Created and performed by Leisa Way

The Wayward Wind Band:

Tyler Check

Adam Koopmans

Bruce Ley

Bobby Prochaska

Don Reid

Starring Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band.

The name, “Wayward Wind Band” does not mean that there are a lot of players of wind instruments meandering around the stage, although this band is so agile, instrumentally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these folks can play the piccolo, clarinet, flute, saxophone and penny whistle.

Nope, it generally means capricious, erratic and unpredictable. “Unpredictable” would be the best definition for the group because they and their lead singer, Leisa Way take the audience to places, they might not have expected.

Not to worry, Rock n Roll Is Here To Stay is a raucous, joyous homage to Rock n Roll through the ages with historical tidbits, observations, many little known facts and lots and lots of songs that show the progression and development of Rock n Roll from its early days.

We are told that Rock n Roll probably began in the 1930s emanating from jazz. From there it developed its own music and those who developed it. The great Chuck Berry burst on the scene with “Johnny Be Good” who lead the way for Little Richard and “Tutti Fruiti”, that lead to Elvis and his swivel hips on the Ed Sullivan Show. Ike and Tina Turner sang of “Proud Mary” before Tina left the abusive Ike and went blazing on her own. Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are cited of course. Stevie Nicks sang “Rhiannon”, Grace Slick sang whatever she wanted and did it with commanding style. Canada’s own Bachman-Turner-Overdrive was represented with “Born to be Wild.”

Leisa Way has created a packed, comprehensive show that illustrates the shifts and changes of Rock n Roll. She represents every major female mover in Rock n Roll wearing a new costume and wig to represent the person the time and the fashion. And she sings wonderfully and adds charm.

The Wayward Wind Band plays the music with gusto, often enacting the movements of the original singer of the song, hips swiveled, musicians jumped in the air and almost did the splits when they landed, there was virtuosic guitar work and mighty drum work. The three women sitting in front of me knew all the songs, bopped in their seats and raised their arms in the air in time to every song.  

Rock n Roll Is Here To Stay is a dandy way of ending a packed theatre season at Theatre Orangeville and to ease people back into the theatre, if they have been reluctant to go before this.

Theatre Orangeville presents:

Plays until: May 15, 2022.

Live stream is available May 7 at 2:00 pm.

Running Time: about 2 hours with one intermission.

www.theatreorangeville.ca

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Live and in person at Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until May 15. 2022.

www.factorytheatre.ca

Written by David Yee

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set and costumes designed by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound design and composer, Christopher Stanton

Cast: Ryan Hollyman

Carlos Gonzalez Vio

An explosion of stunning language, poetry and a deep dive into the intoxicating, desperate world of being a poet and needing to write poems. Wonderfully directed and acted.

The Story. 1957, Roblin Lake, Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County. Canadian poets, Al Purdy and Milton Acorn are building Purdy’s A-frame house where Purdy will live with his wife Eurithe. The house will become a celebrated writer’s retreat after Purdy dies, but for the purposes of the play, Purdy and Acorn are building it. Acorn is a trained carpenter. Purdy makes the coffee and eggs and muses on the hierarchy of the different kinds of cooked eggs in the process. Neither man has achieved their revered place in Canadian poetry at the time, but the need to write poetry is there, burning in their bellies. They bolster each other when they faulter or feel insecure; they know each other’s weak spots and they are each other’s champion.

The Production. Joanna Yu’s set of the vaulting outline of the A-frame house dominates the Factory Theatre stage. There is a big comfortable chair that has seen better days, a table and some chairs and a back wall that is set off with a flimsy covering. A wood stove of sorts provides heat. There are a few ‘mobiles’ with crumpled paper attached. These are discarded poems. The whole place suggests this is a work in progress. There is no running water. Al Purdy (Ryan Hollyman) gets the water for coffee from a bucket he ladles into the pot. Milton Acorn, (Carlos Gonzalez Vio) smokes cigars, gives order for coffee etc. and does little to help with the domestic arrangements. He does know his way around a hammer. Purdy seems almost fastidious in his shirt and pants, at least he doesn’t wear them to bed. Acorn in his grubby pants and shirt looks like he sleeps in his clothes and perhaps hasn’t taken them off in a rather long time.

Al Purdy, as played by Ryan Hollyman, is the more passionate, excitable of the two. His linguistic dexterity is dazzling. He finds Milton Acorn to be lacking as a person and exasperating—selfish, rude, insensitive to others in his behaviour, a clod. Acorn neglects to give Purdy a letter he was expecting from the CBC regarding a submitted play,  because Acorn just forgot. But Acorn makes up for it with his vibrant, passionate, heart-felt poetry and that’s what Purdy respects more than anything about him.

As Milton Acorn, Carlos Gonzalez Vio is morose, insecure about his place in poetry, his poverty and that he never fits in anywhere, not even with other poets. His language is equally as expressive but in a more vulgar, muscular way than Purdy’s.  But Acorn respects and supports Purdy’s work. They are the other’s support. Carlos Gonzalez Vio plays Acorn with an off-handed disdain about most things—it’s a performance that nicely hides a wounded soul.

The two men drink liquor prodigiously, insult the other, complain about the establishment and their lack of being recognized for their work but always at the heart of any conversation is the poetry that drives them.

Director Nina Lee Aquino has beautifully established the bonding of men who are not embarrassed to show their uncertainty or insecurity about their feelings, their yearning, or their attractions. Milton Acorn was smitten with the much younger Gwendolyn MacEwen but was too shy to tell her (he lost his shyness one assumed when they eventually married). Purdy, deeply in love with his wife Eurithe, urged Acorn to make a move to approach MacEwen. Acorn suffered shellshock in the war and in one of the production’s startling moments, Purdy is caring enough to hold Acorn tightly to get him through it. Again, Nina Lee Aquino’s deft hand beautifully establishes Purdy’s and Acorn’s intense masculinity, without any toxicity.  

At the heart of among men is the poetry of Milton Acorn and Al Purdy. It’s declared on a chair (“I Shout Love”); popped off in between drinks of liquor, tapped on an old typewriter, and remembered because it’s good and it’s not necessary to write it down.

Comment. David Yee has written a stunner of a play about two giants in Canadian poetry before they were successful and celebrated. The dialogue is rich, muscular, vibrant complex and the words float through the air like darting butterflies. Dazzling for all the right reasons. Yee has created a work of art that captures the obsessive, emotional, moving need to write poetry. In its way, among men is a play that celebrates the need to make art in the hardest, most debilitating of times, to not give up or lose hope. The play is a beautiful gift.

Produced by Factory Theatre.

Runs until May 15.

Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission.

www.factorytheatre.ca

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Live and in person at Tarragon Theatre, Extraspace until May 20, 2022.

Digital Tarragon Chez Vous run of Three Women of Swatow will be May 15 – 25. 

www.tarragontheatre.com

Written by Chloé Hung

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Set and lighting designed by Jareth Li

Costumes designed by Shannon Lea Doyle

Composition and sound designed by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Carolyn Fe

Diana Luong

Chantria Tram

The humour in Chloé Hung’s play is certainly cutting, but there is a hole in the narrative and an elephant in the room that should have been addressed. Stalwart performances.

The Story. Grandmother is a tough woman trying to pass on her life lessons and knife skills to her daughter and her granddaughter. They all have issues. Grandmother is a butcher with a drinking problem. Her daughter is a vegetarian, much to her mother’s chagrin, and is also a woman physically abused by her husband but refuses to leave him. The granddaughter is a tough, opinionated young woman who lives with her grandmother because she refuses to live with her mother and abusive father. Generational trauma lives in these three women. How does one deal with it all and come to a meeting of the minds?

The Production. To clarify who the characters are the program lists them as: Grandmother (Carolyn Fe), Mother (Chantria Tram) and Daughter (Diana Luong) even though we will realize they are Grandmother, daughter and granddaughter (for clarity Grandmother gets the capital “G” as in the program).

The Grandmother grew up in a village in Swatow, China. She had no choice in who she married in that village and we find out why late in the play. Grandmother’s husband was abusive Grandmother grows into a fierce woman to protect herself. She tries to pass that fierceness to her Daughter when she marries a man who turns out to be abusive as well.  Grandmother has asked her daughter to leave him and come and live with her, but she won’t and tries to placate him instead.

At the beginning of the play the Grandmother is drinking gin, flicking her handheld electric fan for cool air, and reading the bible about a wife who gets revenge on her husband. It’s a scene that goes on a bit too long in establishing the obvious, Grandmother drinks, fans, reads the bible and takes off her clothes to her underwear because she’s hot. She gets a gets a tearful phone message from her daughter about how long to marinate the chicken for drunken chicken, that she plays again and again. Because we have no context at this point, the intention of the extended scene seems to stop the play before it even begins.

The daughter is going to try an appease her abusive husband with food. When we see the daughter there are bruises on her neck and arms. At one point she raises her hand to her face and it’s bloody. We are told that there will be lots of blood in the production. Grandmother knows that her daughter needs help as does her granddaughter. Fierceness sets in. Accusations fly between the three women. The Grandmother is accused by her daughter of being cold and unfeeling. The granddaughter accuses both of them of meddling in her life. They talk around the issue of the abusive husband. The daughter excuses her husband’s behaviour because of gambling debts. She says that he wasn’t always that way and feels she can’t leave him, that he does love her.

The hole in the story and the elephant in the room is the absent abusive husband. We are told so little about him except he had gambling debts. When did he become abusive in that marriage? We aren’t told. The daughter wouldn’t leave him and gave the reasons that have kept many women in abusive relationships—“he really loved her.” The physical evidence of violence  suggests otherwise.  The granddaughter chose to live with her Grandmother and not with her mother and father and was clear she ‘would not go back there’—to her parents’ house. That seems pretty certain that something was wrong, but then matters get muddy when the granddaughter waffles about her father’s violence.

The Grandmother has a solution that is pretty drastic, and again, we are not given a lot of information as to why that point was reached. It seemed more effort went into creating the humour between the bickering women than a clear path forward regarding the abuse.

As Grandmother, Carolyn Fe is fierce. She is matter of fact, takes control when solving an obvious problem and has no time for sentiment when dealing with her daughter and granddaughter except to improve a bad situation. Chantria Tram as Mother (actually Grandmother’s daughter) illuminates a fragile woman trying to deal with a violent husband, a commanding mother, and an irritated daughter. Diana Luong as Daughter (actually Grandmother’s granddaughter) is feisty, quixotic and emotional with all that is going on around her. Director, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster has created a cohesive unite with the three characters and an impressive use for blood.

Comment. As with many plays over the last two years, Three Women of Swatow had been programmed and then postponed because of COVID. The delay of course was heartbreaking to playwright Chloé Hung and all the people who worked on it. I just wish more time was spent dealing with the person who was affecting all three women—the abusive husband. We needed more information about him and what lead them to do what they did.  

Tarragon Theater Presents:

Plays, live until May 20, 2022.

Digital Tarragon Chez Vous run is May 15-25.

Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.tarragontheatre.com

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Wednesday, April 27—May 15, 2022

Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

among men

By David Yee

Factory Theatre

Poets Milton Acorn and Al Purdy talk life, art and poetry as they build an A-frame house in Prince Edward Country. Nina Lee Aquino directs.

www.factorytheatre.ca

Wednesday, April 27- May 7, 2022.

Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont.

The Hours that Remain

By Keith Barker

Directed By Mary Francis Moore, Artistic Director, Theatre Aquarius

Denise has spent the last five years investigating the disappearance of her sister Michelle. Haunted by visions of her sister, Denise must come to terms with what she has so desperately been avoiding.

BUY TICKETS

Wednesday, April 27-May 15, 2022.

Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Three Women of Swatow

by Chloé Hung

directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Buy In-Person Tickets

“Swatow women are supposed to be fierce.”

 

That’s what Grandmother tells her daughter. Grandmother’s a butcher and to her disappointment, her daughter’s a vegetarian. But to her satisfaction, her granddaughter killed her first chicken at the age of three. In this ferocious comedy, the three generations of women grapple with their dark history, emotional inheritance and the legacy of mothers’ life lessons and daughters’ love lives.

 

And there’s blood. Lots of blood.

Friday, April 29-May 15, 2022

Theater Orangeville, Orangeville, Ont.

Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay

Starring Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band

Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band keeps the classic rock flame burning in this high energy show that is mesmerizing audiences with the electrifying sounds of the hottest rock stars and bands in history.

 BUY TICKETS

Friday, April 29, 2022

Playwrights Canada Press Spring Launch
Friday, April 29 at 7pm EDT

free to attend in Gather

Featuring readings from:
Amy Rutherford – Mortified
Jeff Ho – Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land) & Antigone:
Michelle MacArthur and Erin Shields with Sophie Bouey – Voices of a Generation
Michaela Di Cesare – Successions
Susanna Fournier – The Empire

Hosted by José Teodoro!

A written document of the excerpts to be read and instructions on how to access Gather will be sent out the day of the event. Please send us an email if you have any other access needs (ASL interpretation, captioning, audio description, etc.) in order to attend.
 
More info + register to attend

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Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont. Until May 7, 2022.

www.theatreaquarius.org

Written by Keith Barker

Directed by Mary Francis Moore

Set and costumes designed by Jackie Chau

Lighting designed by Jareth Li

Sound designed by Sergey Kublanovskiy

Cast: Cherish Violet Blood

Ryan Cunningham

Cheri Maracle

Damn COVID! The Hours That Remain, Keith Barker’s compelling play of hope and loss, was supposed to open at Theatre Aquarius last week. Then COVID struck and the opening was postponed to today and then postponed again to Friday, April 29. Today, Tuesday, April 26 was in fact the first preview. One must never, ever, review the first preview, ever. The production is still finding its way and connecting with an audience.

So I am not reviewing this first preview. I’m just commenting on this compelling story. Denise has been investigating the disappearance of her sister Michelle for the last five years. She will not allow her sister to be another statistic of missing Indigenous women and girls. We learn from Denise’s partner Daniel that she has been struggling with visions of her sister. Gradually we learn what happened.

The cast of Cherish Violet Blood as Michelle, Cheri Maracle as Denise and Ryan Cunningham as Daniel are each engaging in their own way. The story is hard hitting and moving. Bravo to director Mary Francis Moore for bringing this play to Hamilton and welcoming the city’s multi-cultural communities to the theatre.

Theatre Aquarius in association with New Harlem Productions.

Plays until May 7, 2022.

Running time, 70 minutes (no intermission)

www.theatreaquarius.org

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