Live and in person at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Wren Theatre in association with Rhyno Equity Group. Plays until Nov. 12, 2023.

Written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic

Directed by Tatum Lee

Technical supervisor, Gillian Macleod

Cast: Amanda D’Souza

Adrianna Prosser

Vikki Velenosi

A challenging play given a bold production full of interesting directorial decisions that don’t always work, but the commitment from all involved is impressive.

The Story. The Drowning Girls recounts the story of Bessie, Alice and Margaret, three of the many wives of George Joseph Smith, an Edwardian opportunist who made a living marrying women, taking out life insurance policies for them and subsequently drowning them in their baths. Based on true events.

The Production. A lace curtain goes from one side of the stage to the other. Behind it are three old-fashioned-claw-foot white bathtubs. There is a body in each, submerged in some water. The legs of each body drape over the end of the tub. There is a silver looking box of sorts at the foot of each bathtub on the floor.  

Three ghostly brides surface from the bathtubs, to gather evidence against their womanizing, murderous, husband by reliving the shocking events leading up to their deaths. As they make their case, they discover how they have been victimized not only by George Joseph Smith, the husband in question, but also by society at large.

Bessie (Vikki Velenosi), Alice (Amanda D’Souza) and Margaret (Adrianna Prosser) are submerged wearing white undergarments. Director Tatum Lee has each character wear white contact lenses that create that ghost-like-zombie-like look. An interesting choice but perhaps a bit out of place, if not distracting, since much of the show is taken up with the characters telling us the story that led up to their meeting their husbands, being charmed by him, swept off their feet and quickly married after which they saw his true, mean self and then their deaths.

Much of the characters’ first scenes are presented with the women in their tubs with their backs to the audience, talking of their lives and recollections. Interesting idea, to present the characters with them facing away from us. The rest of the production is presented with the characters facing full on.

One might ask: “How is it possible that three mature women could be so fooled by a man into marrying him after knowing him for a few days or weeks, taking out a life insurance policy leaving everything to him, should she die, and cutting their families out of their lives because the families object to the man?” How is that possible?

It’s possible because it’s the early part of the last century and to be unmarried in 1912, 1913 and 1914 is an embarrassment. At all cost, a woman did not want to be called ‘a spinster.’ It’s possible because George Joseph Smith (one of his aliases) knew how to charm mature women and make them think they were desirable rather than almost past the chance of getting married. Getting married was what a woman was meant to do. She could lament not being able to work or vote, but in society at that time, getting married was her main job. George Joseph Smith knew that and preyed on vulnerable women to look at him as their only hope for respectability.

We hear of horror stories like that. Playwrights Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlakalic put a human face to these stories along with humour and wit. The cast of Bessie (Vikki Velenosi), Alice (Amanda D’Souza) and Margaret (Adrianna Prosser) also put heart and soul to that human face. In one case the husband insists on taking care of his wife’s money because ‘she doesn’t have pockets.’ It’s a feather of a line that floats in the air with such meaning.

Director Tatum Lee’s vision and imagination is certainly industrious and challenging. She created scenes that bring out the angst and uncertainty of these women, illuminated their vulnerability. Lovely work there. But I also found the production often unnecessarily busy and fussy. There is much moving from one tub to another for example, and flitting around the set.  I have faith that with more experience Tatum Lee will realize that less is best.

Comment. My concerns notwithstanding, The Drowning Girls still has resonance. The production is worth a look.             

Wren Theatre in association with Rhyno Equity Group presents:

Opened: Nov. 7, 2023.

Closes: Nov. 12, 2023.

Running time: 80 minutes (no intermission)


Review: Icemen

by Lynn on November 6, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Produced by Theatre By the Bay. Plays until Nov. 12, 2023.

Written by Vern Thiessen

Directed by Iain Moggach

Set by Joe Pagnan

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Costumes by Madeline Ius

Music director/composer, Mathew Magneson

Cast: Nathan Howe

Tom Keat

Isaiah Kolundzic

Icemen was commissioned by Iain Moggach, artistic director of Theatre By the Bay. The company does original work of historic significance that happened around Barrie, Ontario.

So Iain Moggach asked playwright Vern Thiessen to write a play about Barrie, a place to which he had never been and didn’t know anything about according to Thiessen’s own admission. After much research Thiessen has written a play about three generations of Simcoe County ice harvesters who worked in Kempenfelt Bay. This was before refrigeration when this harvested ice kept food cold and fresh. But then the advent of the refrigerator came about that made its own ice and that put the job of the ice harvester in peril. People were getting desperate as they watched as their livelihood vanished.

The production opens in a wood structure, a shed. In Joe Pagnan’s design, there is an outline of the structure with a large table, a ladder against the wall and a sliding red door up center. There are two men in the shed. One is Joe (Isaiah Kolundzic) who is a fit looking man and he’s pacing. He seems anxious. The other person is F.F. for Franklin Forsyth (Nathan Howe) who wears a brown suit and is slumped, tied up and gagged, in a chair. We get a sense of why Joe is so antsy.

Joe is an ice harvester. F.F. is a rich businessman who has hired Joe and his brother Rennie (Tom Keat) and worked them on 20 hour days to harvest the ice. Rennie was exhausted and an accident happened and shredded his arm but he kept working.

Joe has kidnapped F.F. and is holding him for ransom that he and his brother will use to leave that place and get set up someplace else. This is the story of desperation. The haves like FF and the have nots like Joe and his brother Rennie. There is also a hint that perhaps F.F.’s father might have done some dishonest stuff to get ahead by cheating Joe and Rennie’s father. Animosity and anger run deep and long in this community. You see how wily F.F. is even in captivity and how desperate the two brothers are as they plan their next move.

The production is gripping thanks to Vern Thiessen’s play and Iain Moggach’s direction of it. You have one guy tied up and drugged in a chair and the man who did it to him is standing near him angry and agitated. The direction is clear, efficient and well-paced. You grip the arm rest waiting to hear what’s going to happen.

The acting is terrific. Isaiah Kolundzic as Joe, is almost always on the move, almost like prowling. Joe is anxious, unsettled and he shows it by not being able to settle and contain his anxiety. When he speaks it’s with force, agitation and anger.  As F.F. Nathan Howe illuminates F.F’s smarts, his ease with manipulation of a situation. He whimpers, he makes bargains to win over Joe and Rennie. We are watching a cat and mouse game. Vern Thiessen knows how to write it and the actors are wonderful in conveying the subtleties of it.  As Rennie, Tom Keat is a big man who shows all of Rennie’s fragility—from his useless arm, always in a sling, to the fact he might not be intellectually nimble. It’s lovely performance as are they all.

Playwright, Vern Thiessen certainly gives one the sense of the huge ice industry that went on in Simcoe County with the icemen harvesting ice. It’s an industry that was carried on from generation to generation. And then refrigerator was invented and the artificial way of creating ice. And the icemen were thrown to the curb. Heartbreaking.

Theatre by the Bay presents:

Runs until Nov. 12, 2023

Running time: 80 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. David Mirvish presents. Plays until November 26, 2023.

Book by Diablo Cody

Lyrics by Alanis Morissette

Music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard

Additional music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth

Music supervisor, orchestrator, and arranger, Tim Kitt

Movement director and choreographer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Director, Diane Paulus

Scenic design, Riccardo Hernádez

Costumes by Emily Rebholz

Lighting by Justin Townsend

Sound by Jonathan Deans

Video design by Lucy MacKinnon

Music director/conductor, Matt Doebler

Cast: Delaney Brown (understudy for Julie Reiber)

Benjamin Eakeley

Teralin Jones

Dillon Klena

Jade McLeod

Allison Sheppard

And a very energetic chorus of dancers.

Alanis Morissette, the master of melancholy and angst, has her stunning 1995 album, jagged little pill, dramatized by the equally masterful Diablo Cody, and the result is a moving story of a dysfunctional family trying to find their way. It’s a rousing rock musical with loud music and mostly unintelligible lyrics because the sound system is not balanced and too many of the singers don’t enunciate. Come on, does the audience really have to memorize the lyrics to be able to understand them in the show? Do better! Please.

The Story. The Healys are the perfect family. Steve is a successful lawyer. His wife Mary Jane is the perfect wife, mother, hostess and example to her community. Son Nick has just been admitted to Harvard, daughter Frankie is a committed political activist in her high school. The perfect family. Except they aren’t. We learn from Mary Jane that Steve is never home because he works 60 hours a week to provide for his family (he says) and watches porn on his computer at work. Mary Jane takes pain killers for an accident she had months ago and is addicted to the meds. Her doctors won’t give her new prescriptions. The pharmacists won’t give her anything to tide her over. She has taken to getting her drugs in an alley from a person in a hoodie. Nick is under tremendous pressure from his family to be the perfect son and student, and probably doesn’t want to go to Harvard. Frankie is adopted, is Black and does not feel as if she fits into her family. She is romantically linked with Jo another woman at her school, until Frankie meets Phoenix in her class and is charmed by him and confused by her feelings.  

The Production. We have ‘juke box musicals’ based on the music catalogue of a group: ABBA= Mamma Mia! Or based on the music catalogue of one singer: Roy Orbison = In Dreams. With jagged little pill we have a musical based solely on the album, jagged little pill by Alanis Morissette.

Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody has fashioned a book (her first for a musical) that tells the story of the Healy family using the songs of Alanis Morissette’s album. The songs forward the story, augment the atmosphere, philosophy or attitude of the moment and even expand character. The songs certainly delve deep—Morissette is a master wordsmith when it comes to dissecting what makes us melancholy, unsettled, despairing, depressed, alone and isolated. All are aspects of what the characters are going through. She also writes about the lack of communication between loved ones, family-members, children, lovers etc. And Diablo Cody carries on that sensitive dissection and perception of relationships in her book of the musical.

Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the technical creations of Justin Townsend (lighting) and Jonathan Deans (sound) create a production that is closer to a rock concert than a balanced presentation of one very serious album. The chorus of dancers gyrate, twist, flip and twerk creating the image in dance what the characters are going through emotionally.

Mary Jane Healy is usually played by Julie Reiber, who was off for the performance I attended. Understudy Delaney Brown played Mary Jane Healy and acquitted herself well. She has a strong voice and illuminated Mary Jane Healy’s angst, drug-dependence and worry for her family. As Steve Healy, Benjamin Eakeley realizes the frustration and isolation Steve feels in trying to break through to his distant wife. As Nick Healy, Dillon Klena is that kid who is desperate to please his parents, but unhappy in himself. The quiet desperation is so clear in this performance. Teralin Jones, as Frankie Healy gives a multi-layered performance of a young Black woman desperate to be seen and engaged with on her own terms. Jade McLeod plays Jo (Frankie’s girlfriend) with a consistency that is never one-noted.

The singing as a whole is strong, full-throated and emotional. The only problem is that you can’t make out one word of what they are singing the sound is so loud, unbalanced and the enunciation of the cast is sloppy. These are Alanis Morissette’s lyrics we are talking about—the reason we are in the room—and one can’t understand what that earnest cast is singing. Does one have to play the album to hear what the words should be? Not good enough.

Yet if one moseys down King St. for a block to the Royal Alexander theatre to hear Six there is no such problem. The words are clear, crisp and audible, and the sound is loud, but perfectly balanced.    

Comment. Please attend to the sound-balance-mix for this show quickly. Please remind your cast that they are putting on a musical of a hugely accomplished wordsmith and it’s in everybody’s interest to actually annunciate the words so we know what we should hear. I looked at Jade McLeod as Jo sing “You Oughta Know” for example, and had to try and read their lips to try and make out what they were singing, and I know that song. A bit more rigor in actually singing the words crisply, please.

Mirvish Productions present:

Runs until Nov. 26, 2023

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.


Live and in person at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs, Ont. Produced by Drayton Entertainment. Plays until November 12, 2023.

Written by Stephen Massicotte

Directed by Skye Brandon

Set by Douglas Paraschuk

Costumes by Joanne Lee

Lighting by Kevin Fraser

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Cast: Ellen Denny

Dante Jemmott

A beautiful ache of a production and play, done exquisitely as a tribute to Marti Maraden.

Note: As the programme states, Marti Maraden was a towering presence in the theatre, first as an actress then as a director. She was supposed to direct this production but took ill when she was on vacation in August, was hospitalized and unfortunately passed away. The loss to the theatre is immeasurable. Skye Brandon was directed by Marti Maraden and considered her a mentor. She considered him a protégé. He has stepped in to direct the production and he has done Marti and the play proud.

The Story. It’s 1920, the day before Mary’s wedding. She dreams of a time a few years before, of a thunderstorm and the first time she met and probably fell in love with Charlie, a young man about her age. Because of the thunderstorm, Mary found shelter in a barn. There she saw Charlie and his horse. Charlie was cowering in fear of the thunder. He still found the ability to calm his also terrified horse. Mary calms Charlie as well after they introduce themselves. She has recently arrived from England with her parents. Charlie is a local farm boy in the prairies. When the storm passes Charlie returns to his usual self. He offers Mary a ride home on his horse. Her mother is not happy about Mary meeting what she describes ‘as a dirty farm boy.’ A friendship forms between the two young people and that slowly grows into love.

World War I is raging in Europe. When Canada joins the war effort Charlie feels it’s his duty to sign up. Mary is upset by this. They have a fight and Charlie goes off to war without seeing her to say good bye, but they write each other often. Charlie writes her the most personal letters. Their love grows deeper and it leads up to the day before Mary’s wedding.

The Production and comment. Douglas Paraschuk’s beautiful, simple set creates the sense of both the prairies, with simple fencing and shafts of wheat waving in a breeze, and the war. In one corner of the fencing are sandbags that could suggest the war or the farm. Kevin Fraser’s lighting creates the sense of either a blazing red-orange sunset or sunrise. Peter McBoyle’s soundscape captures the nearing thunder storm, and its receding. It could be the bombs of the war as well. Joanna Lee’s costumes are a lovely dress for Mary and work pants and a shirt of Charlie. So that melding of the technical aspects of the production beautifully establishes the world of Mary (Ellen Denny) and Charlie (Dante Jemmott). And the absence of sound heightens the quiet of the prairies. Love that.

Stephen Massicotte has written an ache of a play about an enduring love, compassion, friendship, doing one’s duty and the horrors of war. It’s about how differences don’t matter when the similarities are so aligned, as Mary’s and Charlie’s are. Her mother is a snob when she refers to Charlie as ‘that dirty farm boy.’ Mary ignores it. She is so eager to see him again as he is eager to see her again after that first meeting.

As Mary, Ellen Denny has a consistent English accent that is endearing. She is confident, impish, compassionate about Charlie’s fear of thunder and charmed by him. As Charlie, Dante Jemmott is initially our narrator. He appears in silhouette, a specter in a fitting way, and tells us the year and what will happen the next day. But first he tells us it’s the day before Mary’s wedding and she is dreaming of everything that leads up to this moment.

When Charlie is properly introduced to us Dante Jemmott as Charlie is as shy as Mary is confident—one imagines her snob mother might have tried to instill that attitude in her young daughter, but Mary is also compassionate and understanding. Charlie has the confidence of place. He was born on the prairies and is confident with horses. He can show Mary his confidence and compassion in his own way. The awkwardness they both initially have with each other grows into easy love, affection and trust. Charlie is willing to go into strange territory for Mary, having tea at her house for example.

Director Skye Brandon has realized the beating heart of the piece and been true to it. He inherited the physical aspects of the production—the set, costumes, lighting, costumes and sound that had been chosen by Marti Maraden—and created the most exquisite, graceful, loving production of two people falling in love but caught in the horrors of a world at war.

Mary’s Wedding has such a gentleness and mystery about it. It takes place in the early part of the last century, but it’s true and applicable to any time. A terrific production.    

Drayton Entertainment presents:

Plays until Nov. 12, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Review: WaterFall

by Lynn on November 1, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre Mainspace, produced by Theatre Gargantua, Toronto, Ont. Playing until November 5, 2023

Written by Heather Marie Annis and Michael Gordon Spence with Muhaddisah, Andrew Soutter and Trisha Talreja.

Directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas

Set by Michael Gordon Spence

Lighting and projections by Laird MacDonald

Sound by Heidi Chan and Tori Morrison

Costumes by Ottilie Mason

Cast: Heather Marie Annis


Andrew Soutter

Michael Gordon Spence

Trisha Talreja

Breathtaking in every single way: creatively, intellectually, socially responsibly and artistically. Par for the course for Theatre Gargantua.

From the show blurb: Inspired by the true account of the first underwater explorers to travel 11 km down the bottom of Challenger Deep, WaterFall is the story of a team of scientists who endeavor to be among the very few who have braved the least explored place on the planet. What lures them to the hadal zone, however, is the very thing that also holds their deepest fears. These characters push themselves to the limit of what humans can endure in order to understand and discover what is beyond.

There has never been life on land without life in the water and yet the water on our planet, key to every living system, is under threat. This imagistic piece weaves together the science, politics and mythology of water. Using Gargantua’s signature mix of theatricality, poetry, technology, and live music, WaterFall is a timely, poetic warning from the deep.”

The Production. When you enter the Factory Theatre Mainspace there is a projection across the whole back of the theatre of waves sliding up on a shore and receding. It appears to be an arial view. Accompanying that projection is the sound of the water splashing onto the land and receding. The visual sets the tone; water, its constant ebbing and flowing on land. There are two guitars and one banjo positioned along the front of the stage. At times the cast plays the instruments, creating music, sound and effects for the show. Three large ‘wheeled’ tube-like structures are on the stage—they can be rolled, maneuvered and positioned upright and used to set location and create a sense of confinement and openness.

Theatre Gargantua is a movement-based company—mixing dance, movement and athleticism to tell the story. Initially we are given facts, either verbally or in projections around the walls of the stage. The body is made of 60% water. Water covers ¾ of the earth’s surface. You can’t survive more than 2-4 days without water. When the Titanic was found, they didn’t find any bones. The bones of the deceased dissolved in the water at that depth. That gave me pause.  

Then the company goes into the human connection to the water, the story beyond the facts. The scientists on this expedition are exploring the depths of the ocean to discover its secrets. This is new territory. Two scientists go down in a small tube structure to observe and take notes while two scientists remain on a boat on the surface to be in constant contact. The two characters who submerge sit in the rolled structure, a small light is illuminated overhead. The audience gets the sense of the quiet, dark and confinement in that ‘tube’ structure. One can’t help but think of that horrible accident a few months ago when millionaires paid to down in a submersible to see the Titanic and it imploded because it was unsafe. The scientists in the play WaterFall tookevery precaution and safety measures. But then something happens and one grips the armrest.

The collective work on the play is detailed, nuanced and artful. Each character on this expedition had some incident in their lives that made them either afraid or terrified of water. They all overcame it because their curiosity about what was down there was too great to be dissuaded by fear.  

WaterFall does not harp or hector about the pollution in our water. A comment is that if there is plenty of water then one disregards its importance. If there is a lack of it, there is conflict to get it. What WaterFall does is make us aware of water’s mystery, power and effect on us all. Director Jacquie P.A. Thomas uses her bracing imagination and sense of imagery to create a compelling production about an important subject. The cast is uniformly strong. They will not let you be complacent. Stunning work, as always from Theatre Gargantua.

Theatre Gargantua presents:

Plays until Nov. 5, 2023.

Running time: 80 minutes. (no intermission)


Live and in person at Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. An Axis Theatre Production. Runs until Nov. 6.

Written by Joseph A. Dandurand

Directed by Chris McGregor

Production design by Jay Havens

Music Composer, Marguerite Witvoet

Cast: Meela Alexis

Cassandra Bourchier

Danica Charlie

Braiden Houle

Margo Kane

Damion Leclair

A traditional Coast Salish legend, full of Sto:lo music, masks and imagery from  Axis Theatre of Vancouver.

From the company information: “This Kwantlen First Nations legend follows a cheese-stealing mouse (Kw’at’el) who must find and offer two children to the hungry ogress Th’owxiya (pronounced “the-walk-sia), to make amends for a theft. With the help of Raven (Sqeweqs), Bear (Spa:th) and Sasquatch (Sasq’ets), the sly mouse embarks on a journey to trick the angry spirit and save their family from becoming the ogre’s next feast.”

The production is full of the colour and flavour of Indigenous symbols, drums, animals, totems, art and music. Production designer Jay Havens has done a wonderful job of capturing the magical world of this legend. Th’owxiya is a large, forbidding structure with an impressive head and a body that is open, containing all manner of fruit. In spite of being full of food, Th’owxiya still wanted to dine on children. And heaven help any animal who stole food from the ogress. There would be hell to pay.

The costumes are as colourful and vivid as the set. The Raven (Damion Leclair) has feathers and a large beak and moves with grace; The Bear (Meela Alexis) is expressive; Mouse (Cassandra Bourchier) is wily and clever; Sasquatch (Danica Charlie) and Tree and Bear (Braiden Houle work together to serve Th’owxiya. Margo Lane provides the deep rumbling voice of Th’owxiya.

Th’owxiya, The Hungry Feast Dish is a fascinating look into this Indigenous legend. The idea of sharing food is lovely.  I must confess that recommending this for children 5-8 years old seemed a bit too young for this complex story and certainly when Th’owxiya wanted to eat children.  

An Axis Theatre Production, presented by Young People’s Theatre.

Plays until Nov. 5, 2023

Running Time: 45 minutes with a short Q and A


Live and in person at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ont. Presented by the Eldritch Theatre until Nov. 5, 2023.

Created and performed by Eric Woolfe

Designed by Melanie McNeill

Cast: Eric Woolfe

Emma Mackenzie Hillier

Terrifying! Jaw-dropping-amazing! Hilarious!

This is not a ghoulish show in time for Halloween. This is much more important. This is a show, in which Doc Wuthergloom, the star of his own epic, wants nothing short of saving all mankind from the many and various, monsters, cryptids and weird creatures that lurk among us, ready to pounce, pummel, suck and tear us to shreds. All we need to do is be vigilant and purchase “Doc Wuthergloom’s Field Guide to Monsters.” The price is nominal. The value of such a tome is priceless.

While Doc Wuthergloom regales us with tales of child-eating faeries, a cigar smoking Kapre of the Philippines, the tale of Edward Mordrake the man with two faces (one on the front and one on the back of his head), evil twins, the Dreaded Suburban Sasquatch, and more, he is distracting us with magic tricks. Perhaps it’s to ease the horror by amazing us with magic and weird puppets. There are lots of weird puppets. Most have only their heads and no bodies (now that’s weird—under torture Eric Woolfe, master puppeteer, admitted he doesn’t like making bodies of puppets, hence he makes only heads).

 Who is Doc Wuthergloom who uses Eric Woolfe as an alter ego? The ‘press’ info says it best: “Doctor Pretorious Wuthergloom is the infamous necromancer, travelling exorcist and arcane medicine showman.”

The show actually begins when we enter the murky environs of the Red Sandcastle Theatre. We are greeted by “Camille” (Emma Mackenzie Hillier), a Brooklyn accented (!), gum-chewing, cheerful woman who greets us at the door. In another time she would be described as a “Cigarette Girl”—those comely but ‘scantily’ clad women who carry a tray of cigarettes for sale. In Camille’s case she wears a short skirt, thigh-high stripped socks and heels. Her lipstick is red and her face glows. She carries a tray in front of her with tarot cards, buttons and ghoulish trinkets, as well as the indispensable Field Guide to Monsters for sale. I think she cheerfully said she hoped we survived the show, and then was off to charm some other unsuspecting patron.

All the while Doc Wuthergloom sat scowling in a corner of the stage, watching, with a sneer, as the audience files in. His facial make-up is white with black streaks over the lips and brow, and round eye glasses, to make him look forbidding. He wears a dapper red and black stripped blazer, black pants and almost knee high black and white sneakers.  He expertly shuffles a deck of cards and flips a card from the deck with one hand. His dexterousness is impressive. All sorts of stuff is arranged around the stage and a table of sorts on the stage. Something is covered with a colourful cloth. Whatever is under there can’t be happy.

When the show is ready to begin, Doc Wuthergloom does some magic tricks, gets applause and he says that he cares not if we applaud, he already has our money. This is one irascible dude. He does magic tricks. He reveals a ‘porcelain’ egg, passes a cloth over it or some other such magiciany stuff and then ‘swallows’ the egg with a gulp. I wonder if I have Rolaids in my backpack in case I get ‘sympathetic indigestion.’

He passes a small ball from one hand to another and it disappears and is revealed somewhere unexpected. One is sure of how the trick is done—hidden here or there—and then one just gives up trying to see the trick and just believes that it’s either magic or close to it.

Doc Wuthergloom tells the various stories of mayhem and horror using his many and various puppets. Wuthergloom is intense. His voice is gruff. He is unsettled by the horrifying details.  The puppets are used for murder and mayhem. ‘Blood and guts’ are strewn around the stage. It’s all inventive.

All the while Doc Wuthergloom is doing magic tricks that get more and more complex. A card picked from a deck of cards by a person in the audience who puts the card back in the deck and the picked card appears from somewhere impossible because it was locked in a box or put in a sealed envelope or some such. There is no explanation. It’s magic.

Creator Eric Woolfe has written a bracing, funny script with erudite, almost old-fashioned language which makes it all the funnier. He is keenly attuned to his audience and can riff on their comments with quick wit. Dr. Wuthergloom is a great guide to the dark world of monsters. They are out there. Among us. Most of them are at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. You have been warned and are urged to see for yourself.  

Eldritch Theatre Presents:

Plays until Nov. 5, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto, Ont. Playing until November 12, 2023

Written by Nikki Shaffeeullah

Co-director,  Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

Co-director, Clare Preuss

Set by Sonja Rainey

Costumes by Jawon Kang

Lighting by Echo Zhou

Composer and sound designer, David Mesiha

Cast: Virgilia Griffith

Michelle Mohammed

Adele Noronha

Jay Northcott

Anand Rajaram

Nikki Shaffeeullah

A very ambitious play about ancestors, where we come from the notion of home, migration, the creation of a new nation and the nefarious goings on that prevent that. Judicious editing is in order to clarify, simplify, hone and focus the play.

The Story. A Poem for Rabia is about honouring one’s ancestors, in this case the playwright Nikki Shaffeeullah’s ancestors who were from India. It’s about the creation of British Guyana where Nikki Shaffeeullah’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great, great grandparents were from and it’s about life and struggles in Toronto, where Shaffeeullah lives and thrives and works for a better future. The story is told through the experiences of her characters but for Shaffeeullah this complex story is very close to her heart if not experience.  

From the production information:

An epic journey across time, oceans, and tectonic shifts in political history. A Poem for Rabia weaves the stories of three queer women from the same bloodline: Zahra, a disillusioned activist in 2053, navigating a Canada that has just abolished prisons; Betty, in 1953 British Guiana, caught between her new secretarial job at the Governor’s office and the growing national independence movement; and Rabia, an Indian domestic worker in 1853, abducted by colonial ‘recruiters’ and sent sailing from Calcutta to the Caribbean on an indentured labour ship.  

The Production and comment. Water factors heavily in the story—references to Lake Ontario being too deep to freeze; the ship sailing from Calcutta to the Caribbean.  So there is a section of Sonja Rainey’s set with a section of calm water, surrounded by curved planks of wood that could stand for a ship, different locations, sails on a boat etc.

The play evolves in three different places in three different time periods. Of the six actors, four play two parts in different time periods. Nikki Shaffeeullah plays Zahara, in 2053. She is an activist who wants to serve society to make it better. As the synopsis says, she is an activist who is disillusioned by Canada because it has just abolished prisons leaving many to fend for themselves, without social services.

Rabia (Adele Noronha) is an Indian domestic in 1853 who has been abducted and put on a boat from Calcutta to the Caribbean to be put into domestic service for at least 10 years and will then be free. When Rabia was in India her lover was a woman named Anu (Michelle Mohammed) who it seems was of a higher caste. Rabia was a poet and created a poem that Anu arranged to have published, but only Anu’s name was on the published work. While Rabia was concerned about this, she did not put up a fuss. Anu said that the words would always be Rabia’s. Over the course of the play the poem is recited often by different characters, including Zahra in 2053. So Zahra’s words have been passed down.

In the scenes in British Guyana, there is political intrigue going on in the Governor’s office. Marsha (Virgilia Griffith) is a watchful member of that office and knows something unsavory is going on. She asks Betty (Michelle Mohammed), a new member of the secretarial pool, to type some letters in a secret file to try and get the information out about what is going on. Betty and Marsha are found out, but it’s confusing if Betty actually did type the letters or not—she says not, but we see that she did. What is her point of lying to Marsha, one wonders.

There are also other characters played by actors in different time periods with different relationships to other characters. Keeping their relationships clear and how they factor into the story is a challenge. Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and Clare Preuss are the co-directors keeping the swirl of activity and action well-paced and smooth going.

The acting of the company is very good. Characters are differentiated by accents, nuance, body language and time. As Zahra, Nikki Shaffeeullah is saddened by the political goings on; she is compassionate and committed. As Rabia, Adele Noronha lives by her wits, humour and resourcefulness.  

Nikki Shaffeeullah worked on her play off and on for 10 years. There were workshops, dramaturgical suggestions, readings, explorations and development. The love and commitment to the play is obvious. Now I suggest it’s time for more rigorous cutting, editing, honing and clarifying the story, because with all these characters and the time periods and events and developments, the play is confusing. If a scene, a character or an event does no serve what the play is about, it should be cut. There is more clarity in the above synopsis of the play than in the 2 hours and 30 minutes running time of the play. Please refocus.

A Tarragon Theatre production in association with Nightwood Theatre and Undercurrent Creations presents:

Opened: Oct. 25, 2023.

I saw it on the opening.

Runs until November 12, 2023.

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


Live and in person at Theatre Orangeville, Orangeville, Ont. Plays until Oct. 29, 2023.

Written by Jamie Williams

Directed by David Nairn

Set by Beckie Morris

Costumes by Alex Amini

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Cast: Melanie Janzen

Jamie Williams

A sweet-prickly play about the year in the life of a long-married couple who know everything about each other and still have room to be surprised and romanced.

It’s New Year’s Eve and Mary and Michael, long-married, are getting ready for bed: she with flossing her teeth, eye shade, a book etc. he with an eye-shade, a thingy for the nose to aid breathing (I think), a book, etc. They talk about sex. They banter. They talk about sex some more. They turn the light out.

Jamie Williams has written this play based on the boring routine he and his wife actress Melanie Janzen do to prepare for bed. That’s as a start. To add a wonderful closeness and intimacy to the piece, Jamie Williams is performing this with his wife Melanie Janzen.

The dialogue is fast, funny, witty, silly, thoughtful and covers all sorts of events in the lives of this couple over the year. Michael is an editor at a local newspaper and is worried that the new owners of the place, the children of the late publisher, will want to sell and then what would he do?

Mary tries to calm his fears, which turn out to be real. They cope as long-married couples do, with humour, support, hugs, assurances, and hope. There are health issues. There are plans to make, trips to arrange, a wedding of their daughter.

The View From Here will have everybody nodding in recognition. We’ve all been there in one way or another. David Nairn has matched the swiftness of the dialogue with an efficiently, smartly directed production. Beckie Morris has designed a set that is on a revolved. One part of the set is Michael and Mary’s bedroom the other part of the set is the living room. The action takes place in one or the other of these places. To change locations a stagehand pushes the set around on its revolve from either the bedroom to the living room, or vice versa. To suggest the passage of a day, but would be the same location, the stagehand pushes the set completely around. I must confess, I found the revolving for anything other than to change the location unnecessary and time consuming. If a day passed all that was needed would be to either make the bed or change the props, since Mary’s pajamas usually changed to suggest the passage of time. (Kudos to Alex Amini for her costumes, especially Mary’s vibrant pajamas). After a while I looked on that stagehand as Sisyphus pushing that boulder up a hill.

Both Jamie Willams as Michael and Melanie Janzen as Mary are charming in their own right. As a long-married couple, they have the familiar rhythm and shorthand of couples who know each other intimately. Indeed, there is a lot of intimacy here and it is comforting to know the two are married and comfortable with a touch, a hug or a caress.  Michael is a fretter and Mary is calmer. Both compliment and comfort each other beautifully.

The View from Here looks pretty good from here.

Theatre Orangeville Presents:

Plays until Oct. 29, 2023.

I saw it, Oct. 25, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. Plays until Nov. 4.

Written by Ins Choi

Directed by Esther Jun

Set and costumes by Julia Kim

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Cast: Emeka Agada

Ins Choi

Vicki Kim

Leon Qin

Kelly J. Seo

This is the best production of this play that I have seen over the last 20 years. It’s full of the beating heart of the play, nuance, loving detail and wonderful talent.

Background. Kim’s Convenience is Ins Choi’s first play. He began writing it in 2005 as part of the Fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company Playwrights’ Unit and continued to develop it over the next several years. In 2010 Ins Choi sent the play to various Toronto theatres that rejected it. He submitted the play for the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival and won the New Play Contest. From there it was remounted by Soulpepper, toured the country and was made into a television series of the CBC. There have been awards along the way.

The play is a bittersweet immigrant story; of trying to fit in to a new life but still honouring the traditions of one’s culture; of love and forgiveness.

The Story. Mr. Kim (‘Appa’ in the programme, means ‘Father’ in Korean) has owned and operated his convenience store for 30 years. He is thinking of passing it on to his daughter Janet  to run. When she was a kid she helped often in the store, while also going to school to be a photographer. That is where her heart is—to be a photographer. She is now 30 years old, lives at home above the store and is indeed a photographer.

There is a son, Jung but he’s estranged from his father and they haven’t talked in a long time. Jung talks to his mother, (‘Umma’ in Korean), often going to church with her. He regrets the rift with his father and longs to come home.  

The Production. Julia Kim has designed a set that reminds us of every convenience store we have ever been in. There is a set layout to these stores, you can check. Because Mr. Kim-Appa (Ins Choi) is meticulous, the shelves are stocked and neat. I always thought that interesting. If the shelves are always fully stocked, doesn’t that seem like there have been few sales? I always wondered about that. But of course, the shelves are stocked because Mr. Kim is meticulous.

When Mr. Kim-Appa (I’ll refer to him this way since he’s referred to by both names depending on whom he is speaking to)  opens the store at 7 am Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa enters from the back where the family apartment is. Ins Choi as Mr. Kim–Appa  is grey-haired, walks slowly—he wears sandals, socks, a work shirt and pants. He turns on the radio, (wonderful selection from sound designer, Maddie Bautista—of traffic reports in Toronto), sets out the lottery tickets and makes a cup of coffee using more sugar than a human should use for a cup of coffee. Director Esther Jun knows how to set up a visual joke beautifully and Ins Choi as Mr. Kim knows how to milk it. He opens a pack of sugar and holds it high over the cup and then adds more sugar from a dispenser, held even higher.

Mr. Kim-Appa has a polite, but distant relationship with his customers. One gentleman, Mr. Lee (?) (Emeka Agada) who is described as a Black man with an Asian name wants to buy the store for re-development. This makes Mr. Kim-Appa ponder his future and the store’s.  Mr. Kim-Appa also has a rather prickly, commanding relationship with Janet (Kelly J. Seo). He expects her to be a dutiful, obedient daughter, and she balks at his obstreperousness. She also would like to be paid for her time working in the store. There is dandy exchange between father and daughter about the actual economics of the situation. As Janet, Kelly J. Seo is impatient and loudly vocal with her Appa. Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa is as vocal if not angry most of the time. One can appreciate that. He worries about the store. He is till hurt by his absent son. It’s a world crowding in on him and anger is the best way of venting. It’s a beautifully modulated performance because there are moments of tenderness. 

 Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa is agile, a bit stooped from age and wear but a man who is in charge. His timing is impeccable; his gruffness is part of his humour as is his watchfulness. The accent and the turns of phrase are divine. He seems to have a keen sense of who is shoplifting from his store. The banter between Ins Choi as Mr. Kim- Appa and Kelly J. Seo as Janet is particularly bracing. They lob insults and stand their ground with grace and finesse. One does cringe at Mr. Kim’s –Appa’s assumptions of who will shoplift on the basis of race.

Vicki Kim as Umma plays the quiet peace-maker in the family. She is burdened with the rift between her husband and her son. She is aware of the prickliness between her daughter and husband. She has to keep the peace for all of them. Both parents speak to each other in Korean. There is no need for a translation—we get the gist when there is reference to “Janet” etc. It’s the banter of long-married husband and wife.

As Jung, Leon Qin has a sweetness mixed with the guilt of what he did to cause the rift. He is trying to make amends. When he comes home, he makes suggestions to his father about the store. Three is such longing in this wonderful performance. Suddenly new possibilities arise for Mr. Kim-Appa and the future. To give a sense of the detail in Esther Jun’s direction, Jung gives his Appa a photo that he knows Appa would appreciate. He presents the photo like an offering and when Appa takes it Leon Qin as Jung gives the subtlest of bows in respect. I found that breathtaking. The production is full of such tenderness.

Kim’s Convenience is partially autobiographical in that Ins Choi came to Canada with his family from Korea and his parents earned a living by working in an uncle’s convenience store. We all recognize our own family dramas in the Kim’s family drama. It’s about determination, tenacity, respect and love. A wonderful, wonderful production.

The Grand Theatre presents:

Opened Oct. 20, 2023

I saw it: Oct. 24, 2023.

Plays until: Nov. 4, 2023.

Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)