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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Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont. until May 1, 2022.

www.theatrecentre.org

Directed by Adam Paolozza and Kari Pederson

Text by Adam Paolozza

Original music by Arif Mirabdolbaghi

Performed by SlowPitchSound (Cheldon Paterson)

Lighting designed by Andre Du Toit

Costumes, set and projections by Evgenia Mikhaylova

(based on original designs by Allie Marshal (costumes) and Anahita Dehbonehie (set and projections)

Cast: Nicholas Eddie

Rob Feetham

Ericka Leobrera

Adam Paolozza

The set is simple. A white sheet/screen is suspended at the back. A large round white form is on the floor. To the side is a table with a turntable and a sound-board (?) with lots of buttons and nobs to push.

Songs in Italian play the audience into the space which seems appropriate considering the title. A character enters in a Pierrot costume wearing a white paper crown  and walks to the desk. This is SlowPitchSound. He does an extended riff with a record and the turntable tapping the buttons, pushing the nobs and producing various sounds and rhythms. Complex, dexterous, joyful. Then the actual show begins and SlowPitchSound provides sound effects for the mime portion that is not intrusive or distracting.

A character (Rob Feetham) enters bent over with a straight back, slowly ‘chasing’ a large, inflated ball. Is the ball the moon or some other unattainable thing? The character just misses catching the ball but does flip over it in various ways of elegant clumsiness. And leaves, kicking the ball.

Other characters, (Ericka Leobrera and Nicholas Eddie) enter also, enacting silently. Philosophical musings on art and life are voiced in Italian by an unseen Adam Paolozza, with the English translation projected on the screen/sheet at the back. Some of the musings express the futility of the exercise to do mime or even theatre. Indeed, the inspiration of the piece is the 2003 suicide of an Italian mime who felt that his craft was no longer respected or even relevant.

Adam Paolozza enters, wearing the Pierrot costume, black tights and ‘ballet’ slippers, sits in a chair and applies white makeup to his face. He seems despondent, sad, resigned in his activity. One segment of the show is a planned talk-back with the other performers with Nicholas Eddie asking Adam Paolozza the lamest, most insensitive questions about his art. Later Paolozza will be asked ‘to do the box’, the enactment of miming being in an imaginary box, a fundamental exercise in mime. He does it, beautifully but again, with a kind of resignation.

While the inspiration for Italian Mime Suicide is an actual suicide, no such despair suffuses this artful, thoughtful, deeply thought production. Paolozza has been perfecting his art in mime for years and the audience is the beneficiary of this gift. He and his fellow ‘albatrosses’ take this artform and communicate their message in the purist of ways—with silence, movement and gesture. It’s full of wit, humour, purity and art. And it’s never irrelevant.

While I appreciate the soundscape of SlowPitchSound for the actual show, the showy segment at the very beginning of the show is totally out of place and distracting. The point of Italian Mime Suicide is the pure form of the art of mime, not the showy, showoffy form of making sounds and noise seem clever.  

Produced by Bad New Days

Plays until May 1, 2022

Running time: one hour

www.theatrecentre.org

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Review: GROW

by Lynn on April 25, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. until April 30, 2022.

www.grandtheatre.com

Book by Matt Murray

Music by Colleen Dauncey

Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal

Directed by Dennis Garnhum

Music Supervisor, music arrangement and orchestrations by Wayne Gwillim

Choreographer, Linda Garneau

Music director, Andrew Petrasiunas

Set and costumes designed by Bretta Gerecke

Lighting designed by Kevin Fraser

Projections designed by Jamie Nesbitt

Sound by Brian Kenny

A coming-of-age story, a celebration of community and the importance of a green thumb when nurturing plants, especially weed.

Note: I first saw this musical comedy in an earlier iteration in 2018 at Next Stage when the show was called Rumspringa Break! Amish teenagers often decide to take Rumspringa Break which allows them to experience the world outside the confines of their close-knit rural community. This experience happens before they are Baptized, usually at 19 years of age. The show has been expanded and developed and is now called Grow.

The Story. Hannah is a 19-year-old Amish woman who is close to being Baptized and after that, is expected to marry Samuel, her childhood sweetheart. As an Amish woman that is what is expected of her. But first she haltingly announces to her father, the religious leader of their community, that she wants to go on Rumspringa Break. She has written to an uncle in Toronto and has arranged to stay with him. Her father is not happy but will allow it if Hannah goes with her twin sister Ruth. This unsettles Ruth who wants nothing more than to stay in her small community tending the crops and plants. She has a special gift with them and can make anything grow. Asking Ruth to go with Hannah to the ‘big city’ takes Ruth out of her comfort zone. But Ruth is devoted to her sister and vice versa, and so Ruth reluctantly agrees.    

When the two sisters get to Toronto and the address where their uncle lives, they find out that the uncle moved to Florida. Hannah realizes that that must be the reason he never replied to her.  The sisters plan to make this into a positive move and depend on the kindness of the strangers in that run-down area to take them in.

A young man named Skor agrees when he learns that Ruth is good with plants. Skor has some plants that are not doing well and he needs them to be healthy or he can’t make a living. Yes, Skor grows marijuana plants (illegally) and sells the resultant ‘weed’ to his community but the stuff is not good. For the good stuff one has to go next door to “Bliss” a licensed Cannabis store owed by Alexis.

Ruth’s success with Skor’s plants blossom (sorry). Her relationship with Skor blooms (uh, sorry again).  However, the relationship between the sisters seems to wilt on the vine (ok, enough!).

The Production.  The first scene takes place in the rural Amish community. The people have come home from church to a sit-down dinner. The action takes place on Bretta Gerecke’s circular raked wood platform. Many panels hang down from the flies and rise up as the scenes change. Jamie Nesbitt’s projections flash on each panel suggesting where the scene takes place (different locations in the country/city/indoors etc.)

In the first scene, Gerecke’s costumes are traditional Amish wear: long dresses, over which are crisp, white aprons and white caps for the women; work shirts and pants and wide brimmed hats for protection from the sun for the men. In the city scenes, the clothes are contemporary: jeans, deliberately torn, funky etc. Initially Hannah and Ruth look out of place in their traditional Amish clothes when they come to the city. They eventually change and fit in.

The rise on the circular platform looks steep when a character steps onto or down from the platform. The constant rising and lowering of the many panels above the stage and the endless flashing of projections on them to suggest a change in location, is annoying, distracting and unnecessary. Surely there is a more efficient and economical way of suggesting location changes for the audience than this constant travelogue of ‘stuff’.

In the first scene director Dennis Garnhum’s quickly establishes where women fit into this Amish society. The men sit at the table, sprawled out, relaxed. Behind them, standing, are the women ready to wait on them. Only when all the food is on the table do the women sit at the table. Hannah (Arinea Hermans) frets because Ruth (Jenny Weisz) isn’t there. She’s off in the fields, singing to the corn. She finds the crops respond to it.

Quickly the relationship between the sisters is established. As Hannah, Arinea Hermans is quietly confident, in control, takes care of things, frets about her sister and ‘handles’ matters efficiently. As Ruth, Jenny Weisz seems a bit flaky (that bit about singing to the corn makes one’s eyebrows knit—but we soon unfurrow our brow when all that singing bears fruit).  Hannah is eager for her Rumspringa adventure, Ruth is hesitant, concerned. She worries about her plants and crops. She is easily convinced by Hannah to go on the adventure, perhaps because if she doesn’t go, neither can Hannah. Both Hermans and Weisz sing beautifully.

Matt Murray’s book is fresh, original and bursting with humour and insightful musings on the human condition, families, responsibility and love in the strangest places. Colleen Dauncey’s music is tuneful and melodic and Akiva Romer-Segal’s lyrics are fine in establishing the mood and world of that show. The lovely, lilting “Til the End of Days” again establishes what the women can expect. Samuel (an always expressive Izad Etemadi) joyfully sings of how he and Hannah will marry and she will cook and clean for him and give him seven sons. She is horrified. He is smiling and joyful.

When the sisters arrive in the bustling city, they are like fish out of water—from their garb to their innocent, trusting expectations. When they meet Skor, played by a physically and mentally nimble Adam Sanders, they are ‘taken in’, charmed because he appears to be a friend. And certainly when Ruth is told he has some plants needing her special touch, Ruth is won over.

Ruth’s special touch with plants has been talked about often to this point. An opportunity to prove her expertise is presented, but squandered. Ruth is shown a sickly plant in a pot. She immediately goes to it and delicately touches it and sings to it. I note that Dennis Garnhum stages people in front of the plant and around it, ignoring the plant after this moment. I thought that was a perfect opportunity to instantly show Ruth’s abilities initially with that sad plant by having it perk up and even grow a bit.  But nothing is done until a later scene with Skor’s other plants.  Why have a perfectly presented opportunity and do nothing with it? I think this moment should be rethought and addressed.

While Ruth is coming into her own in the city, where she is respected for her abilities and not laughed at because of how she gets the plants to grow, Hannah seems to be forgotten and resents it. She says that this is a recurrence from when she was in her Amish community. I think that needs to be solidified and strengthened. Perhaps when she wants to leave on her own for Rumspringa she can explain it’s because she wants to do things on her own rather than be overshadowed by her sister. The revelation coming as it does in Act II needs some shoring up in Act I.

Comment. I love the different worlds and communities of Grow and the melding of communities when one needs to be supported. The gentle message is welcome in this day and age. The music is lovely and buoyant. The lyrics conjure the world of the song and the play. The performances are strong and the characters charm. One embraces the strength of the sisterly love and how they both blossom in their own way and the paths they decide to follow. I have concerns that are noted, and I think the show will be stronger if those concerns are addressed. On the whole Grow is a smart, inventive story with a terrific score.

The Grand Theatre presents:

Playing until: April 30, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes, (1 intermission)

www.grandtheatre.com

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Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until May 29.

www.mirvish.com

Written and performed by Jake Epstein

Developed with and directed by Robert McQueen

Orchestrations, arrangements and musical supervision, by Daniel Abrahamson

Musical direction by David Atkinson

Set and prop design, by Brandon Kleiman

Lighting design by Amber Hood

Sound by William Fallon

Performed by: Jake Epstein

David Atkinson

Lauren Falls

Justin Han

Boy Falls From the Sky is a glorious heart-squeeze of a show.

Jake Epstein is blessed with supportive parents who nurtured his and his older sister Gabi’s love of musical theatre. Every summer he and his family made the 10-hour drive to New York City to see a Broadway show. In the back seat of the van, Jake and his sister sang duets from Broadway shows to get them prepared.

In Boy Falls From the Sky, Jake Epstein’s joyous, moving autobiographical show, he lets us know that his life changed when he saw Big—the Musical, his first show on Broadway. He realized that kids could be in a Broadway show and Epstein set about planning that for himself.

He auditioned for and was cast in the Soulpepper Theatre Company’s production of Our Town at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1999. It was his professional theatre debut. He was 12-years-old. This led to being cast as the cocky, confident Artful Dodger in a production of the musical, Oliver! for Mirvish Productions, also at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Epstein also knew that training and education were equally important in his achieving his goals so he auditioned for and was accepted into the Claude Watson School for the Arts. His future wife said she fell in love with him when he played a hot dog going through the digestive system as one of his class exercises. That must have been one terrific performance.

Jake Epstein branched out from musical theatre and landed a role in Degrassi: The Next Generation about the trials and tribulations of teens in a high school. He stayed with the show for five years. He auditioned for Juilliard in New York City and didn’t get accepted. He describes this as ‘devastating. It wouldn’t be the last time he would experience this feeling. And yet as he was feeling despondent on the streets of New York, he was approached by some tourists who recognized him from Degrassi: The Next Generation who loved the show and him in it. It’s one of several moments in Boy Falls From the Sky that beautifully captures the heart-breaking lows and intoxicating highs of being in ‘show business.’

Epstein continued to audition for roles and often was successful. He moved to New York City to be closer to his dream of being in a Broadway musical and then it happened. He was cast as the  alternate lead in the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. Never mind that the show had a reputation for being dangerous to actors—many were hurt because of the intense aerial work. Never mind that the show has a special place as a Broadway disaster. This was Jake Epstein’s Broadway debut. He had achieved his dream.

And then he was cast in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical originating the role of Gerry Goffin, Carole King’s ex-husband. Epstein had arrived. Or had he?

While Boy Falls From the Sky is packed with Jake Epstein’s many and various theatre credits it’s much more than a: “And then I was cast in…..” retelling. The show is loaded with Jake Epstein’s beautiful singing of songs from the various musicals he’s been in. It’s full of his endless charm, joy in performing, self-deprecating humour , perceptive observations and irony. This show is suffused with irony. The show’s title, Boy Falls From the Sky, gives a hint—it’s a song from Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark a doomed musical, and the song is about a man searching for himself, dignity in humanity etc.

Epstein begins Boy Falls From the Sky with “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago about dazzling the audience etc. with flash and grandness. Irony. Epstein takes the audience behind the ‘razzle dazzle’ of the heady world of Broadway and show business and shows them another world. Brandon Kleiman’s set is of a rehearsal room with two guitars Epstein will play with his three band mates who accompany him; with a ladder leading to an upper area. The set is placed downstage in the Royal Alexandra Theatre, but the audience can also see the exposed backstage of the theatre. Epstein enters the space from upstage without fanfare, takes off his jacket begins to play (after his indicates we turn off our cellphones and wear our masks).  No razzle dazzle here.

Boy Falls From the Sky is full of intoxicating euphoria when you get your dream realized.  But there’s also the angst, uncertainty, loneliness of touring and needing to hide the truth about it all from a loving family who only want to be happy for you and with you. The show is seamlessly directed with subtlety by Robert McQueen.

Boy Falls From the Sky is Jake Epstein’s beautiful, heartfelt, funny buoyant show that comes to terms with realizing his dreams and perhaps learning bliss might be elsewhere in performing.  

If there is a quibble, it’s that often the band drowns out what Epstein is singing and that needs to be addressed. And there was a glitch with the amplification on opening night that was quickly solved, and handled with grace and aplomb by Epstein.

At its heart Boy Falls from the Sky is a wonderful show that lets actors know they are no alone in their hopes, dreams and disappointments, and lets audiences know that the hardest part about acting is not learning all those lines.

David Mirvish and Past Future Productions presents.

Plays until May 29, 2022.

Running time: 70 minutes, (no intermission)

www.mirvish.com

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Comment: TOKA

by Lynn on April 24, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Closed after a very short (three-day) streamed run at Theatre Passe Muraille. A Theatre Passe Muraille and lemonTree creations digital co-production. Closed as of April 23, 2022.

Written and choreographed by Indrit Kasapi

Directed by Cole Alvis

Set by Andjelija Djuric

Lighting by Melissa Joakim

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Composition, cinematography and editing by Kejd Kuqo

Co-composer for Mrs. Noka Song

Costumes by Rachel Forbes

Cast: Nicole Joy-Fraser

Indrit Kasapi

Kat Khan

Christopher Manousos

Riley Sims

William Yong

NOTE: “Toka” means ‘land’ in Albanian. “Gjakmarrjet” means ‘blood feud’ in Albanian.

Ermal Marashi is the youngest surviving member of his family invoking gjakmarrjet and seeking revenge “for the blood of his dead brother, Besnik Marashi.” He declares he will kill Mark Noka for killing Besnik. Only Ermal misses shooting Mark in the heart and hits him in the shoulder. Mark lives. The blood feud has lasted 27 years between the two families. Twenty-seven years before the state took everything from the Noka family (as Mrs. Noka says). “The state took everything away, our land, any gold” and gave it to Ermal ‘s grandfather. There was no way Anton Noka could feed his family without his land so he went to Ermal Marashi’s grandfather and pleaded for some of his land back. He was refused. A fight ensued and Anton Marashi killed the Noka grandfather. That set the feud in motion. Members of each family killed members of the other family to seek revenge and keep the feud going until Ermal wounds Mark Noka. Both Arjola Marashi, Ermal’s sister, and Mrs. Noka plead for the feud to strop, and offer a solution that seems unpalatable. But something must be done to stop it and so a possibility arises for an end to the feud.

In a production full of Indrit Kasapi’s energetic, muscular choreography, we watch as four men dance to Kejd Kugo’s pulsing music. We recognize Ermal, but who are the other three men? We learn who they are, deep into the 70 minute show.  It would have been good for context and getting the audience into the story quicker if the revelation came earlier.

 Andjelija Djuric’s set of a jagged slightly raked main space and a steep raked part is both impressive and daunting. While the steep rake looks impressive, one can’t help but wonder how the actors will negotiate something that looks so unsafe for them. The floor is black with streaks of red, to represent the spilled blood of the feud over the years. Mrs. Noka and Arjola bond over trying to find a permanent end to the feud. Mrs. Noka and Arjola’s late mother were once friends and Mrs. Noka promised to take care of Arjola when her mother died. There is a further suggestion for reconciliation and forgiveness but Ermal objects. The situation is fraught. The resultant solution is heartbreaking.

As Ermal Marashi, Christopher Manousos illuminates a young man who knows the honour he must put forward for his family, but he is timid, afraid, and really wants out of the arrangement. Kat Khan as Arjola Marashi is a forthright, clear-thinking woman who wants to protect her brother and help keep his honour. It’s tough. Nicole Joy-Fraser as Mrs. Noka gives a touching and strong performance of a mother fighting for her son’s life, aware of the blood feud and why it started, but also is aware it must stop, with forgiveness. Joy-Fraser gives a powerful performance and certainly in providing and singing Mrs. Noka’s song.

While the title of the play is translated as ‘land’ and playwright Indrit Kasapi and director Cole Alvis want the play to be about land, that’s not what the play suggests. It might have started with the state taking the land from one owner and giving it to another owner and the first murder started when the first owner was desperate for just a piece of his former land and killed the second owner in a fight, but the subsequent revenge killings were about the feud and not the land.

Indrit Kasapi and Cole Alvis try and make a case that this Albanian blood feud over land is comparable to the colonial appropriation of land from the Indigenous peoples in this country. I don’t think the play provides strong proof of such a thesis. In Indigenous teachings, writings and oral history note that the land does not belong or is owned by anyone. It’s something to be shared, cared for and tended. In various land acknowledgements one always notes that the Indigenous peoples are the original caretakers and stewards of the land, not the owners. “Mother Earth” does not belong to anyone people they repeatedly note.

The taking of land by one faction from another happens all through history, in wars and other conflicts. Occasionally the taking of land by the state from one owner and giving it to another owner happens: the British taking the land of the Palestinians and giving it to the Jews who survived the Holocaust is a case in point and a more applicable comparison to Toka. There are other examples unfortunately through history.

In any case, Toka is a powerful story, well told with lots to think about regarding feuds and forgiveness.

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Review: 1184

by Lynn on April 22, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Azeem Nathoo as Ibn Rushd (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Live and in person at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont. until May 1, 2022.

www.passemuraille.ca

Written by Azeem Nathoo

Directed by Jamie Robinson

Choreographed by Roula Said

Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie and Niloufar Ziaee

Lighting by Jennifer Jimenez

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Composer, Roula Said

Cast: Walter Borden

Joella Chrichton

Quancetia Hamilton

Azeem Nathoo

Neta J. Rose

Roula Said

Adriano Sobretodo Jr.

Johnny Thirakul

Jennifer Villaverde

A well-intentioned, earnest attempt to examine the fall of the Muslim Empire in Andalusia and Jewish, Christian and Muslim coexistence in the 12th century.

The Story. Ibn Rushd is a Muslim scholar, educator, scientist and personal physician to the Almohad Caliphate in Andalusia, in 1184. Times are calm with Jews being welcomed and protected in Andalusia, living peacefully with Christian and Muslims. But trouble is brewing. The Caliphate has died mysteriously. His hot-headed-hedonistic son Ya’qub assumes his place and now wants to wage war on his various enemies outside the city. A woman pilgrim with an important task seeks Ibn Rushd to try and arrange a peace with one of their enemies who are Christian. Suddenly matters are not so peaceful for the Jews. Ibn Rushd tries to negotiate a secret peace. It gets messy.

The Production.  Playwright Azeem Nathoo was fascinated by so many questions and aspects of religion in Andalusia in Medieval times. Initially he was curious about whether the peoples of Judaism, Christianity and Islam could live together in peace and if so why and if not why? There is a lot of history on both sides of the questions to ponder. He was fascinated by the literature and scientific artifacts that were used by Jews and Muslims in mathematics. He was curious about the truth of various incidents in history as it pertained to the three Abrahamic religions.

The play touches on some of these aspects without much development such as noting some revered books and the previously mentioned mathematical device. That Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in peace in Andalusia is referenced in a short reference.

For the most part 1184 is a dramatization of how Ibn Rushd acted as a diplomat/scholar/teacher to ease troubled waters in the city and then trying to quell rebellion between the Muslims and each other and then the Muslims and the Christians. The few Jews noted in the play spent most of their time either hiding or trying to escape from their enemies. For all his calmness and clarity of thought Ibn Rushd was overwhelmed by corruption, animosity, gossip and warring factions. Times don’t seem to have changed. As a first play by Azeem Nathoo, it’s well-intentioned and earnest.

Azeem Nathoo writes in a vaulted language that has enough character that could make it seem as if it would come from Medieval times. But at times the play seems plodding. Director Jamie Robinson uses the set well, negotiating his actors to use the main space, the balconies and stairways to give the sense of swift movement. Azeem Nathoo plays Ibn Rushd with calmness and quiet dignity. As Moses Maimonides, Neta J. Rose gives the character an almost modern sensibility and humor.  More work needs to be done on the cast enunciating with more clarity and projecting so that the audience can hear. Many in the cast could use more rehearsal to nail down their parts.

The production is sumptuous and beautiful. The set by Anahita Dehbonehie and Niloufar Ziaee is simple but evocative. Two pillars of material? Light? are on either side of a central staircase representing one area of the story and later the throne of a leader. There are side areas indicating Ya’qub’s (Adrian Sobretodo Jr.) bedroom; and another area up above representing the palace of the Caliphate and his Queen (Quancetia Hamilton). The costumes also by Anahita Dehbonehie and Niloufar Ziaee are rich in brocade, gold trim, enveloping robes for the Muslims—the one for Ibn Rushd (Azeem Nathoo) is particularly stunning. The costumes are equally beautiful for the Christians and simple coverings for the Jews. The Muslims wear head coverings similar to turbans, while the two Jews in the story vary in the head coverings. A bookseller (Walter Borden) wears a fez and Moses Maimonides (Neta J. Rose), a contemporary of Ibn Rushd wears a yarmulka. The design of the stage floor has markings from the three religions. The lighting by Jennifer Jimenez is also effective in being moody, provocative, seductive and secretive. Roula Said has composed a score with songs that capture the mysticism of those times. And Maddie Bautista’s sound design puts us into that world steeped with intrigue and danger around every billowing curtain.

Comment. The premise of exploring the many and various questions cited by Azeem Nathoo for 1184 was promising. I wish more of it was realized in the actual work. I was reminded of another exhibit/play that was co-produced by the Aha Khan Museum. Super-knitter, Kirk Dunn, created The Knitting Pilgrim  in which he talked about three huge panels that he knitted over 15 years that depicted the commonality and conflicts between the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Stunning and informative.

A co-production between Phoenix Arts and the Aga Khan Museum.

Plays until May 1, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours (with an intermission).

www.passemuraille.ca

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Review: ORLANDO

by Lynn on April 21, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

A combination of on-line and in-person Virtual Reality presentation by Talk is Free Theatre, Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. plays until April 23, 2022.

www.tift.ca

Written by Sarah Ruhl

Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf

Created by Merlin Simard and Raven John

Directed by Rinchen Dolma

Movement director, Sze-Yang Ade-Lam

VR Facilitator and Cinematographer, Nicole Eun-Ju Bell

Sound design by Marcello Ovidio

Virtual World Builder, Raven John

Video editor, Dustin Krysztofiak

Stage Manager, Anastasiya Popova

Performed by Merlin Simard

The Story. Orlando is based on Virginia Woolf’s celebrated 1928 novel about a young nobleman, born during the reign of Elizabeth I who at 30 begins living as a woman, and continues as such for the next 300 years. The novel has been described as a satire of English Literature as Orlando meets the greats of English literary history. Over time the novel has been considered a feminist classic, but in our ever-changing world of gender fluidity the novel speaks to that more profoundly as envisioned by Merlin Simard (they/she—whose biography describes them as “a queer, trans-feminine performer, playwright, dramaturge and filmmaker).

The Production. The audience engages with the production initially by watching Act I on their devices at home, in preparation for the second part that takes place in the Five Points Theatre, in Barrie, Ont.

Act I is presented as what might be described as an animated video. The vibrant-coloured presentation follows Orlando as a man in the court of Queen Elizabeth I and how their relationship became close. Orlando falls in love with Sasha, a Russian noblewoman and the various ‘adventures’ that involves. Act I concludes with Orlando becoming a woman at the age of 30. Orlando is ‘played-voiced’ by Merlin Simard.

For Act II, the small audience gathers inside the Five Points Theatre. Seven or eight chairs are arranged in a circle, each chair illuminated with a soft cone of light. Each member of the audience sits in one of the chairs and is fitted with disinfected Virtual Reality headgear that fits snugly over the head, eyes and rests on the nose. When we put on the headgear we are put into the Virtual Reality world of Orlando and the other characters that we initially saw in Act I at home. We are also given two ‘joy’sticks—one for the right hand and one for the left hand. We are instructed in how to hold the sticks. There is a clicker for the index finger, a button for each thumb that moves the images closer or father away. I found that interesting. When I move the button towards me, the image in the head gear moves away. When I move the button away from me, the image moves towards me. Another button gives us a total view around the view we are looking at. There is a button that will enter us into a different portal when we point and click an image that appears. I believe there is a button on the joy stick that does absolutely nothing, but I could be mistaken.

We are told that if we need help we can put up a hand and someone will come immediately. Or we can take off the head gear and watch a screen that shows what we are watching in the head gear etc. I mention Anastasiya Popova as the Stage Manager in the credits because she and Nicole Eun-Ju Bell do wonderful work in caring for the audience. They make sure we feel safe, secure, guided, helped and accommodated with this new world of Virtual Reality.

Of course there are those in my small group who know how to navigate this world with ease. The gentleman next to me managed to ‘break’ into the internet and navigate that. I also thought he had managed to navigate ‘my’ characters by moving them all over the view. Maybe I’m imagining that. He seemed very adept.

When the ‘performance’ begins, the image of Orlando appears in our head-gear. This time Orlando is a woman in a white dress—is it a wedding dress? Not sure. The images are a swirl. I click the joystick, click the bottoms and when it’s time to click through a portal, I’m stumped. Anastasiya is right there to calmly assure me she will get me on track. Sometimes even before I know I’m in trouble she can tell and is right there to help. At one point I click on the button to get me into another portal and nothing happens. It’s at that point I take off the head-gear and watch the large screen that will have a ‘two-dimensional’ vision of what we are watching on our head-gear.

And for a bonus, there in a chair outside the circle is Merlin Simard as Orlando, with her own head-gear and joy sticks, wearing a white dress (a wedding dress?) and thick, black Doc Martin-type boots. She narrates the complex story of how Orlando navigates the world and the centuries. I also note that Simard shakes her hands often and raises them above her head. This then translates into Orlando’s expressive hands punctuating the story with motion. Love that.

I’ve seen three shows in Virtual Reality: Draw Me Close by Jordan Tannahill about his relationship with his mother, The Library at Night created by Robert Lepage about 10 great libraries in history and Orlando created by Merlin Simard and Raven John.

In Draw Mr Close the audience was invited to engage with the Virtual Reality of the world by moving around the space, opening a ‘virtual reality’ window, siting on a ‘virtual reality’ bed and then seeing how that whole world worked outside the performance space.

In The Library at Night all one needed to do was gasp in wonder at the cleverness and creativity of Robert Lepage’s images and imagination, and hope the head-gear worked.

In Orlandothe audience is invited to participate even more, by clicking buttons that enter worlds, moving characters closer etc. and engaging in that world. As in all three cases, I am astonished at the artistry of the endeavor.

Certainly in the case of Orlando Raven John as the Virtual World Builder, has created a vibrant coloured world of Orlando and his/her/their adventures through history and their lives. Images, visions, vistas and experiences have one shaking one’s head in amazement at the artistry of the creation.  Co-creators, Merlin Simard and Raven John have re-invented Virginia Woolf’s story to embrace, expand and dive deeper into the world of gender fluidity. Fascinating.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Plays until April 23, 2022.

Running time: Act I at home is 42 minutes. Act II at the Five Points Theatre is 1 hour.

www.tift.ca

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Tuesday, April 19-23,  2022 7:30 pm

At Talk Is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Five Points Theatre

ORLANDO

Graphic by Michael Torontow
Graphic by Michael Torontow

Orlando

Written by Sarah Ruhl

Based on the Novel by Virginia Woolf

Created by Merlin Simard and Raven John

BOOK YOUR TICKETS

Based on the Virginia Woolf novel, this is the story of a young nobleman who is drawn into a love affair with Queen Elizabeth I. For a time, life at court is interesting enough, but Orlando yearns for something more. As he strives to make his way as a poet and lover, his travels keep him at the heart of a dazzling tale where gender and gender preferences shift regularly, usually with hilarious results.

–Sarah Ruhl

back to WHAT’S ON

DATES

April 15-23, 2022

VENUE

Five Points Theatre

1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie

DURATION

Approximately 70 minutes

ADVISORY

Orlando is being presented in Virtual Reality. Audience members will be required to wear an Oculus Quest VR headset for the duration of the performance, and we cannot guarantee that you will leave with the same hairstyle with which you arrived.

Orlando is an immersive, interactive, community experience designed for small audiences, and we can’t wait to see you. Since portions of the production directly depend on your presence, we ask those who book tickets to make use of the Free Admission Policy outlined below and inform us if you are unable to attend your scheduled performance.

SCHEDULE

Friday, April 15, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, April 16, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 21., 2022, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, April 22, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, April 23, 2022, 2:00 p.m. (SOLD OUT)

Saturday, April 23, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

TICKETS

Free Admission

Tuesday, April 19, 2022,

Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto

BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY

Mirvish BUY TICKETS
Video Thumbnail: Jake Epstein.
BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY
APRIL 19 – MAY 8
ROYAL ALEXANDRA THEATRE
260 King Street West, Toronto
★★★★★ Cabaret of the highest calibre!”
NOW MAGAZINE
This is excellent musical theatre storytelling by a performer with natural star power. Jake Epstein’s Boy Falls from the Sky is from the first moment engaging and fun, his presence electric and yet relaxed, his timing perfection and the laughs strongly rooted in self-deprecating honesty. I loved this show!”
THE WHOLE NOTE
The show Epstein has crafted with director Robert McQueen is pitch-perfect!”
MOONEY ON THEATRE
MORE INFO BUY TICKETS

Tuesday, April 19-30, 2022.

Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

GROWStage

Grow

Grow

Book by Matt Murray
Music by Colleen Dauncey
Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal
Directed by Dennis Garnhum

April 19 to April 30, 2022
Opening Night April 22
Spriet Stage

Running Time: 120 minutes

Age Recommendation: 12+

Advisories: This production depicts scenes of recreational cannabis use and coarse language

Title Sponsor
Michael & Stephanie McDonald
Hospitality Sponsor

“Wherever you go, I will go.”

The Story

GROW follows Amish twins, Hannah and Ruth, as they leave the comfort of their sheltered community to explore the modern world for the first time. After arriving in Toronto, their plans quickly go up in smoke and they wind up crashing with a down-on-his-luck, illegal cannabis dealer. Their sisterhood is tested when the creation of the “world’s greatest weed” launches one of the twins to astronomical heights.

Packed with soaring songs, big laughs, and unforgettable characters, this brand-new musical comedy examines the bonds of family, the value of community, and the choices we make in order to grow

Wednesday, April 20- May 1, 2022

At Harbourfront Centre.

CoMotion Festival Brings Deaf and Disabled-led Theatre

Curated by Alex Bulmer, named one of the most influential disabled artists by UK’s Power Magazine, with over 30 professional years of experience across theatre, film, radio and education, CoMotion Festival runs April 20 – May 1, 2022.

Theatre kicks off with influential Canadian Deaf performance artist Chris Dodd. His poignant tragicomedy Deafy, blending ASL, the spoken word and surtitles, reflects on the experiences of a Deaf person existing in a hearing world to ask essential questions about community and belonging. Catch its anticipated first run at Harbourfront Centre Theatre from April 22–23, 2022.

BUY TICKETS

Thursday, April 21-May 1, 2022. Check times    

1184

Theatre Passe Muraille

“1184” runs April 21-May 1 at Theatre Passe Muraille. 
Purchase your tickets
here.



A co-production by Phoenix Arts and Aga Khan Museum.
Toronto—ON. April 21-May 1, 2022 at Theatre Passe Muraille.

Phoenix Arts and Aga Khan Museum are excited to announce the world premiere of 1184, a historical retelling of the cusp of the fall of the Muslim Empire in Andalusia. This fall occurs after 500 years of Convivencia or coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and the Jewish people.
What lessons can we learn as we embark upon a journey through our Medieval past? Can peoples from these three major Abrahamic religions truly coexist? Join us as we welcome you to 12th century Andalusia!

LISTINGS INFORMATION
Event: 1184
Venue: Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto)
Dates: April 20 (previews), April 21 (opening) through to May 1.
Times: 1pm (April 20 & 26), 2pm (April 23, 24, 30), 7:30pm (April 20-23 & 27-30), 12pm (May 1).
Duration: 120 minutes plus intermission.
Website: https://ca.patronbase.com/_TheatrePasseMuraille/Productions/1Q/Performances 

TICKETS
Previews & Students, Seniors, Accessibility, Arts Workers: $12.50.
General admission: $25.
All prices + HST & applicable service charges.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. The venue is wheelchair accessible.

Thursday, April 21-May 1, 8:00 pm

Italian Mime Suicide

Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Italian Mime Suicide

Produced by Bad New Days

Bad New Days brings Italian Mime Suicide to The Theatre Centre after a critically acclaimed, smash-hit run in Montreal, earning a “Top Ten Shows of 2021” by the Montreal Gazette.

Italian Mime Suicide is loosely based on the true story of an Italian mime who, in 2003, committed suicide claiming no one appreciated his art. With an imagistic aesthetic reminiscent of the kitsch iconography of clowns, mimes and world-weary circus acrobats, Italian Mime Suicide sensitively explores the levity within tragedy, creating a funny, poetic meditation on melancholy, the acceptance of failure and the usefulness of art in troubled times.

Italian Mime Suicide marks Bad New Days’ return to Toronto stages to ask why do we make art, why is it important, and why now?

Italian Mime Suicide features four marvellous mimes accompanied by a turntable musician who fuses jazz, electro and traditional polyphonic singing. Through different vignettes, always funny, sad and touching at the same time, the characters depict what could have caused the despair of this mime and pushed him to end his life. […] isn’t that precisely the magic of mime? To offer only poetry and beauty, even if it is a question of interpreting the greatest tragedies…?” –Sophie Jama, pieuvre.ca

Credits

Directed by Adam Paolozza & Kari Pederson
Dramaturgy by Kari Pederson
Text by Adam Paolozza
Creative Producer Victor Pokinko
Assistant Producer Madeline Disera

Original music composed by Arif Mirabdolbaghi & performed by SlowPitchSound (aka Cheldon Paterson)
Featuring Rob FeethamNicholas Eddie Adam Paolozza
Lighting Design by Andre Du Toit
Costumes, set & projections by Evgenia Mikhaylova, based on original designs by Allie Marshall (costume) & Anahita Dehbonehie (set & projections)

Tickets

Tickets are $15-60; A limited number of PWYCA tickets, for any price, available in cash at the door each night.

Venue

Franco Boni Theatre

Performance Dates

Thursday, April 21 – 8 pm (Preview)

Saturday, April 23 – 8 pm (Opening)

Sunday, April 24 – 3 pm

Tuesday, April 26 – 8 pm

Wednesday, April 27 – 8 pm

Thursday, April 28 – 8 pm

Friday, April 29 – 8 pm

Saturday, April 30 – 3 pm

Saturday, April 30 – 8 pm

Sunday, May 1 – 3 pm

This performance is 1 hour

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Live and in person by Soulpepper Theatre Company, at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont, until May 8. 2022.

www.soulpepper.ca

Written by Dominique Morisseau

Directed by Weyni Mengesha

Set and projection design by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound design and composer, Lyon Smith

Cast: Akosua Amo-Adem

Mazin Elsadig

Kevin Hanchard

Tony Ofori

Chelsea Russell

Kristen Thomson

From the programme: “The play’s title refers to what has been called the school-to-prison pipeline, the way school discipline can lead young people directly into the criminal justice system, a trajectory that disproportionately affects Black children.  Research conducted by the Toronto district School Board recently revealed that for every suspended White student, there were three suspended Black students.”

A gripping, multi-layered play given a compelling production of a single mother struggling to find a place for her teen-aged son in the education system where he can feel secure and valued. Dominique Morisseau’s play is an indictment of a school system and a society that fails him and other young Black men like him.  

The Story. Nya is a single mother teaching English in a rough inner city high school. Nya and her ex-husband, Xavier, want to ensure their son Omari avoids that “pipeline” by sending him to a private school, thus giving him the best education possible and therefore a better chance to succeed. But something happens one day between Omari and another person and Omari is facing expulsion from the school or worse because of it. The play looks at how each character copes in their own way and the larger issue of the imbalance in expectation, assumption and disregard if one is Black.  

The Production. Director Weyni Mengesha’s sensitive, breathtaking production peels back the many layers of Dominique Morisseau’s bristling play, to reveal its anger, rage and beating heart. Every character has a story and secrets they are hiding and they play them out on Lorenzo Savoini’s spare set of a large blackboard, a table, some chairs etc. that evokes the classroom, staff room in Nya’s school and other locations.

We learn immediately the seriousness of what happened with Omari (Tony Ofori), but the exact details and why are gradually revealed. Dominique Morisseau is such a gifted playwright, leaving clues about character and details as she goes. And Weyni Mengesha, an equally gifted director, keeps her audience leaning forward and hanging on to learn more and ponder each side of the stories.

Nya (Akosua Amo-Adem) is at the heart of the play, its conscience, the conduit through which we see a broken system and the characters in it, some of them broken too, some fiercely prevailing. Akosua Amo-Adem gives a shimmering performance as Nya. Nya handles all the emotions of working in a tough school, negotiating with her ex-husband, Xavier (Kevin Hanchard) over Omari and coping with Omari’s situation, by bottling it all up inside. It’s a measured, nuanced performance of controlled frustration at an unfair system when it comes to Black students.

When dealing with Xavier Nya is almost tentative, cautious about getting too emotional. With Omari she is firm but loving. She knows the world from which she is trying to protect him. She knows how her son is perceived and considered by society and she is careful to support and bolster him. It’s a compelling mesmerizing performance.

Nya is a terrific teacher. When she teaches Gwendolyn Brooks’ iconic poem “We Real Cool” about young, forgotten men who die too early, she uses two versions to engage her students. The first version is from the mainstream press that is laid out ‘traditionally’, formally. And then she shows them a version by a lesser-known press, that depicts the poem as graffiti, a language a teen would be familiar with, and certainly her students. (A pity the students were never allowed to take out their cell phones to actually hear Gwendolyn Brooks recite the poem—the phones were ostensibly confiscated upon entering the school—Brooks gives a fantastic recitation of her poem).

The same compassion Nya shows to her students and son, she shows to her colleagues in the school, but there is integrity as well. Laurie (Kristen Thomson) is a fellow teacher in the school who has just returned from convalescing after she was attached by a student’s angry parents. Laurie is angry at the situation because she feels she has given her life to teaching and another incident suggest she’s not appreciated. But there are cracks in that ideal. Laurie refers to some students as being from the West Indies and Nya quietly, carefully suggests that is not a proper, respectful way to refer them. Laurie glides over the correction without a blip. It’s a subtle bit of business, but so telling. Laurie’s inability to gain her student’s respect and understand their reason for fighting is telling in how she deals with a tense moment in her class.  Nya knows her students’ names and treats them with firm respect. She is fully aware of the world they inhabit and how they are treated. One doubts that Laurie has that same sensitivity. Kristen Thomson as Laurie gives a strong, unsentimental performance, full of frustration and exhaustion.

The other character in the play is Dun (Mazin Elsadig), a harried but compassionate security officer doing his best to keep the peace in an almost untenable situation.

When we do meet Omari it’s at his school, in his girlfriend Jasmine’s (Chelsea Russell) room. In Tony Ofori’s beautifully paced, detailed performance as Omari do we see a young man who is a conscientious student but certainly concerned and anxious at his situation. One gets the sense that Omari and Jasmine are two of the few Black students in the school.  As Jasmine, Chelsea Russell is feisty, clear-eyed and reads the situation better than Omari does. Jasmine is not afraid or cowed by anyone. She gives Omari unconditional love and support. One also senses that Omari’s knows how important it is for him and his parents that he succeed in this school. And again, gradually, we learn what lead Omari to respond physically to being provoked. Only when Omari engages with his father Xavier do we get the full scope of what Omari is dealing with; what we will learn later from Nya is what would be considered ‘inherited rage’.

Xavier is a commanding character, and certainly in Kevin Hanchard’s bold performance. Xavier is a prosperous businessman, always too busy to answer his phone and be contacted quickly by his ex-wife and son. He is a distant father to Omari. Xavier rankles when Omari suggests that. He says with anger, he never missed a support payment or missed sending his son a cheque. That’s not what Omari needs from this man. Dominique Morisseau and certainly Weyni Mengesha and Kevin Hanchard, have us wondering how Xavier avoided the ‘pipeline’ himself. What did he have to do and forego to become this successful and distant from his family. And how close to anger and violence he is himself when Omari challenges him about his lack of emotional support as a father. Complex questions to a complex situation.

Comment. Dominique Morisseau does not offer any clear, easy answers to the on-going issues in her play. But she offers, through the perceptive Nya, how and why the problem prevails. As Nya says when pleading her son’s case, he is judged by how he appears. He is underestimated because of that; discounted, undervalued. The idea is projected through history.  Not said specifically is ‘because he’s Black.’ This stunning production of Pipeline offers lots of painful truths to ponder.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company:

Runs until May 8.

Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

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      The Critic

By E.B. White

The critic leaves at curtain fall

To find, in starting to review it,

He scarcely saw the play at all

For watching his reaction to it.

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