Heads Up For the Week of Jan. 8-14, 2024

Jan. 11-20, 2024

The Greenhouse Festival

Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

This is a Tarragon Theatre Festival of works-in-development, instillations, and collectives. This is the Festival’s second year. Last year the entire Tarragon Theatre building was chockablock with theatre activity. This year is packed with plays, installations, works from collectives all of which will prick your imagination. Check the website for tickets, deals, timetables and schedules.

www.tarragontheatre.com

Jan 12- 21, 2024

Quartet

At VideoCabaret, 10 Busy Street, Toronto, Ont.

By Heiner Muller

Directed by Harri Thomas

A play by: Heiner Muller Translated by: Marc Von Henning

BUY TICKETS

A play by: Heiner Muller
Translated by: Marc Von Henning

An Other Hearts production
in association with VideoCabaret

Who will you be, and who will you be with, after the end?

Quartet is a play written by Heiner Muller, inspired by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Liasons Dangereuse. In a space that is equal parts “a drawing room before the French Revolution/ an air raid shelter after WWIII”, two people remain: the Marquise de Merteuil (M) and the Vicomte de Valmont (V).  

January 10-27, 2024

Uncle Vanya

Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont.

A CROW’S THEATRE PRODUCTION OF UNCLE VANYA

Written by: Anton Chekhov
Directed by: Chris Abraham
Adapted by: Liisa Repo-Martell

A modern adaptation and dazzling cast breathe new life into Chekhov’s masterpiece. In the waning days of Czarist Russia, Vanya and his niece, Sonya, toil ceaselessly to run their family estate. After retiring, Sonya’s father, a celebrated professor, returns to the estate with his young, glamourous wife. When he announces his plans to sell the land and evict them all, passions explode and lives come undone.

Note: This is the Crow’s Theatre production that played in Toronto last year but this time with a change in the staging configuration. Instead of being in the round, as it was last year, this year director Chris Abraham is directing it for a proscenium stage. For the Hamilton run Liisa Repo-Martell will be playing Sonya.

The production will then play the CAA Theatre in Toronto, Feb. 2-25, 2024, again in a proscenium theatre. For the Toronto run, Bahia Watson will be reprising her role as Sonya.

www.theatreaquarius.org

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Live and in person at the AKI Studio (Daniels Spectrum) 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto presented by Favour the Brave Collective. Until Jan. 14, 2024.

boxoffice@nativeearth.ca

Written by Genvieve Adams

Directed by Tyler J. Seguin

Dramaturg, Keith Barker

Production design, by Kalina Popova

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Lighting designer, Imogen Wilson

Cast: Genevieve Adam

Montana Adams

Jordan M. Burns

Theresa Cutknife

Darcy Gerhart

Scott Garland

Brianne Tucker

Third in a trilogy of plays that take place in New France in the 1600s. Good, complex storytelling.  

The Story. Heartless by Genevieve Adam is the third part of her New France Trilogy. It takes place in New France in 1689. This is how the press information describes it:

“Two female Wendat warriors are looking for a runaway priest. A nun who sees visions and a young widow are looking for a lost city. A killer is looking for redemption. Their paths collide in a darkly funny tale of forgiveness, family and the terrible things that are done in the name of love.”

There are seven characters in the play and in one way or another they are connected. I won’t itemize all the relationships, but as an example: Anne is the mother of Marinette, the young widow. Her husband died in some accident when he was away from home, but his body was never found, just his canoe.  Anne is also the adoptive mother of Oheo, one of the female Wendat warriors and it’s Oheo who wants to find the runaway priest. Her cousin Sheauga is the other female Wendat warrior and is accompanying her cousin on this quest.  They are fearless warriors, accomplished and reveal different attitudes towards the white settlers etc. Sheauga has no use for them. Oheo is more forgiving because. Perhaps it’s because she is of mixed blood, or perhaps it also might be why she wants to find the priest.

The Production and comment. While Heartless is the third in the New France trilogy you do not need to be familiar with the first two parts. Theatre being so time consuming, it’s a long time between plays.

For example, Genevieve Adam wrote Deceitful Above All Thingsin 2015 for SummerWorks where I first saw it, and then it was remounted in 2017. https://slotkinletter.com/?s=deceitful+above+all+things

Sets up the premise of women coming to New France from the old world to start a new life between 1663-1673.

The second play, Dark Heart is a prequel of the first play and it takes place in 1661, so matters get complicated.

https://slotkinletter.com/?s=Dark+Heart

Characters in the first two plays are referenced in Heartless. Fortunately, Genevieve Adam is an inventive playwright and fine story-teller and each play stands on its own with its own story. For the most part, Heartless is a fascinating story, of different cultures and attitudes, the power of guilt, the independence of women in order to survive, redemption and love.

Genevieve Adam has set her plays in New France in the 1600s but her characters have a gritty vocabulary which is very modern especially the swearwords. But she also has vivid expressions for her Wendat characters. For example, Oheo, one of the female Wendat warriors speaks of a man who she loved in the past. She says: “his name is in my mouth.”  I loved that expression. It’s of a different time and culture and its meaning is so vividly clear no matter the time period.

Genevieve Adams has made her women tough, resourceful, independent, and vengeful if things don’t go properly. I found the way playwright Genevieve Adam depicted the attitudes of both cousins to be nuanced and subtle. Sheauga was adamantly anti-settler. Oheo is more forgiving perhaps because she is of mixed blood or it also might be why she wants to find the priest.

As I said, for the most part, Heartless is a fascinating story, certainly with regards to the title. So many things happen that are described as heartless—vengeance for example. Or a character is described as being heartless, as not having a heart in the center of their body.

But I found the character of Catherine, the nun to be problematic.  She sees visions (perhaps it’s that passion drink she is consuming). She is looking for the lost city of Hochelaga, the source of her people, now seemingly lost and her people, dead (it was a St. Lawrence Iroquois 16th century fortified village on or near Mount Royal in present-day Montreal). Unless I missed something in the dialogue, I thought Catherine was unconnected to the others, who are so connected. I found Catherine to be the weakest character. Is this Genevieve Adam trying to make a case for lost ancestors? Not sure. I don’t think the play would suffer without her.

We live in interesting times, where accusations of appropriation of voices is prevalent. So, I wonder if Genevieve Adam is appropriating the Indigenous voice through her Wendat characters of Oheo and Sheauga? Genevieve Adam’s bio does not mention if she is Indigenous. But her dramaturg is Keith Barker who is a member of the Metis nation of Ontario. He is the former Artistic Director of Native Earth. As dramaturg he would be responsible for the rigor in being true to any Indigenous reference as well as consulting in the overall process of helping the playwright realize her play.

The production design by Kalina Popova is simple and evocative: swaths of gold material in various formation hang down from the flies suggesting trees, foliage, different locations, etc.

Director Tyler J. Seguin does a good job of realizing the play with what is really a large cast with several locations. The direction is assured, efficient and keeps the pace moving without lagging. Generally, the acting is strong. Genevieve Adam plays Anne, an irreverent but confident woman, who has many secrets. She seems to control what is going on in the story. As the playwright she has written herself the best part.  She is funny, flirty and dangerous. Genevieve Adam plays these aspects with subtlety and never tips her hand until absolutely necessary. Theresa Cutknife plays Oheo who is anxious to find the priest for personal reasons. Her work is very moving.

I do wish that Montana Adams as Sheauga would speak up—she tends to mumble and speak softly. What Sheauga has to say is important…please speak up so that we can hear you. Overall, though I think the cast is accomplished and they tell the story with grace.

Favour the Brave Collective presents:

Plays until Jan. 14, 2024.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

boxoffice@nativeearth.ca

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

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Recently I wrote what I called a ‘Rant’ on how our world and our theatre is going to hell in a handbasket.

https://slotkinletter.com/?s=Rant%2C+How+our+World+and+our+Theatre+is+going+to+hell

Maja Ardal—an accomplished, gifted theatre maker—disagreed that it was a rant and suggested it was a thoughtful essay, or a thoughtful reflection (offered by Robert Girvan, another measured reader). Fair enough. I will call these “thoughtful essays or reflections” in future.

Here is the latest, continuing on with the theme of how the pandemic has made it difficult for people to come back to being civil and kind to each other.

Herbie Barnes, the wonderful Artistic Director of Young People’s Theatre in Toronto, outlined his concerns in his programme note to his lovely production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, when he gave reasons for programming this play for the holidays:

“As we programmed our 2023.24 season—over a year ago—we had to try to foresee what might be of most importance for young people. Immediately post-pandemic (last season) we focused on bringing back joy.

When we selected It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play as our holiday offering, we had already noticed something else—the struggle that so many faced in re-learning how to share space with one another. Altercations on our transit systems, in our classrooms and on our streets started to appear in headlines.

Our time of isolation made us forget that we are a community and that we need each other to exist. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a shining example of that simple fact. George Bailey spends his whole life giving to his neighbours. And in this play, his community is finally able to return that generosity.”

Herbie Barnes, Artistic Director, Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

And here is something completely different.

In New York City for Broadway and Off Broadway shows the theatre programmes are printed in a publication called Playbill. For about a year I’ve noted that there is a letter from the President of Playbill to the theatre patrons. Here it is in its entirety:

“Dear Friends,

Welcome back to the theatre! As you all know, theatre is a shared human experience. It is made and managed by dedicated, caring people. All the professionals working in this theatre are there to help you. They are trained and knowledgeable, and want you to have the best experience at the show.

We know some of you have been away from our theatres for some time, and we welcome you back with open arms. As audience members, you are essential to this theatrical experience—the show could not go on without you. You are an important part of the show by helping maintain the sanctity of this space.

                        SO TO HELP YOU (AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU)

                     HAVE THE BEST TIME, WE PLEASE ASK THAT YOU:

  • Always cooperate with the ushers and front-of-house staff. They are there to help you, keep an orderly environment, and ensure the show begins on schedule.
  • Turn off your cell phone. All the way off…
  • Unwrap all candies now and refrain from loud eating during the performance.
  • Treat all theatre staff you see with respect and kindness. They want you to have a great time, and they deserve respect and a positive work environment.
  • Be engaged with the show! But also respectful of the people around you and do not make any overly disruptive comments.
  • Do not sing along with the actors. It distracts your fellow theatregoers and is not thoughtful.
  • Do not engage with the actors or musicians working in the show. Only engage if they encourage you to, and please do not distract them at any time during the performance.
  • Stop drinking alcohol immediately if you’re feeling tipsy. Drink some water.
  • Be patient with the restroom lines. We know they’re long and space is tight. But do not become pushy or rude. Everyone will get their turn.
  • Relax, sit back and enjoy the show! Once again, we could not be here without you.”

Sincerely,

Philip S. Birsh

President and Chairman

Playbill Inc

These two statements represent two different points of view.  For reflection.

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

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This production played at Theatre Passe Muraille in 2018. I bears reprinting because of the controversy regarding its recent cancellation at the Belfry Theatre, Victoria, BC as of Jan. 2/24. The play is important because of its HUMANITY, something we seem to have forgotten in these fraught times.

Review: THE RUNNER

by LYNN on DECEMBER 3, 2018[EDIT]

in THE PASSIONATE PLAYGOER

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Christopher Morris

Directed by Daniel Brooks

Set and costumes by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composer and sound design by Alexander MacSween

Cast: Gord Rand

A beautiful, gripping production of a compelling story about a man who just wanted to do good.

The Story. Jacob is an orthodox Jew who is single, lives with his mother and is a volunteer paramedic with Z.A.K.A, a group that goes around Israel and internationally collecting the body parts, skin and blood of Jews involved in terrorist attacks. He has no other life/job but this one and he takes it very seriously. (Note traditionally Jews must be buried intact, hence the need to collect the body parts from a terrorist attack etc. for a proper burial.)

One day he comes upon an Israeli soldier lying dead in the road and near him is a young Arab woman who has been shot in the back. She is still alive and Jacob goes to her to try and save her life. He is reprimanded by the others in his group and by his superior for helping the Arab who they assume killed the soldier. Jacob can’t assume anything because he wasn’t there. All he saw was a woman in need of help and since he took an oath to “do no harm” he helped her. He has been taking criticism and enduring the bad treatment of his co-workers, his mother and his righteous brother. All of this leaves him conflicted about what he should have done and knowing he did right.

 The Production. Daniel Brooks directs this production with his usual flair creating vivid images, stark lighting (thank you Bonnie Beecher) and directs a performance of Gord Rand as Jacob that is full of generosity, heart, air-gulping life, confusion, determination and compassion. There is such a firm but gentle hand in the direction; the orchestration of when to run, walk, speed up and shade the dialogue.

Because Jacob must be ready at a moment’s notice to rush to an incident, accident, terrorist attack, Jacob is always rushing. To create this sense of constant movement Gord Rand as Jacob does the whole play on a narrow, long strip of the stage that juts out into the space in front of the audience. It is in fact a treadmill. Beams of light from Bonnie Beecher’s stark design pour down on him. Sometimes he runs but it’s not enough to stop him being sucked into the black of upstage. Very effective image, a voice coming from the dark void upstage.

Often he is running as the treadmill speeds up. He talks urgently of what he has discovered. He talks with speed, purpose and determination of giving the Arab woman CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation to keep her alive.

There are also moments when the treadmill slows and Jacob walks and ponders the things he has encountered and remembers. Moments in his life. He notes that his mother always has dinner ready for him but never knows if he will be home to eat it. She wants him to get married. She hasn’t twigged to the fact that that won’t happen.

There are moments when there is a loud bang sound; Jacob is on the ground and thinks he’s wet. He gets up confused about what has happened. He continues walking. His righteous brother has a job and is prosperous and has contempt for Jacob because Jacob does not have a job; he doesn’t pay taxes; he lives with their mother. In a blistering speech Jacob’s brother feels Jacob he is useless and should go back to London to live and get a job. His brother has disgust for his brother for saving the Arab girl and has contempt for all Arabs. Jacob asks his brother how he can live there under such circumstances and Jacob said his brother yelled: “BECAUSE IT’S MINE!” It’s a particularly chilling moment in a production full of them.

Gord Rand gives a towering performance as Jacob. Jacob is thoughtful, fastidious in a way, desperate to pass on good will to his fellow Jews and towards others, There is such detail, from trying to keep his yarmulke on his head, to his adjusting his glasses up on his nose with his finger,  Of course there is stamina, energy and a sense of exhaustion as Rand runs and walks for the whole hour of this important show. It’s not exhausting for the audience, interestingly enough. It’s the message that writer Christopher Morris wants us to hear and what we realize happens at the end that leaves us emotionally drained.

Jacob sees the negative attitudes around him. He knows in his heart he did right for saving the Arab girl. He is a mensch. And while we know he is kind he laments that that is a rare emotion with his fellow Jews? Volunteers? He does find kindness in the most unexpected place and while the situation there in Israel seems so hopeless that moment of kindness leads one to be optimistic.

Comment. I read somewhere that the basis of Judaism is that it is ‘life-affirming, man-revering.” That is embodied in every single thing that Jacob does in his life. He wants to save lives, no matter whose life it is: Arab, Jew, Palestinian. A life is a life. “Do no harm.”

Christopher Morris has written a compact, taut play that depicts in Jacob’s clear, pristine dialogue the history of the Jews coming to this rocky land with no oil or resources because it was promised to them. Through Jacob we glean the animosity of Jew against Jew and the thorny relationship with the Arabs.

Morris has created in Jacob a generous, open-hearted, gentle man who is searching to do good, to be scrupulous in that search. He is mindful of the explosive nature of his surroundings and tries to hold on to his humanity and find it in others. It’s a measured look at a situation that can be so lopsided. It’s an emotional exhausting,  eye-opening, gripping piece of theatre and I did what I usually do when I see something as moving as this about a troubling subject: I sobbed all the way to the car.

A Human Cargo Theatre Production with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: Nov. 10, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 9 2018.

Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission.

www.passemuraille.ca

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Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. Soulpepper presents Bad Hats Theatre’s production. Playing until Jan. 7, 2024.

www.soulpepper.ca

Written by Fiona Sauder

(with a tip of the hat to the original story of “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll)

Music by Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko

Directed by Sue Miner

Musical director, Jonathan Corkal-Astorga

Co-composed by Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko

Original choreography by Cameron Carver

Costume Designer, Ming Wong

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound systems designer, Andres Castillo Smith

Cast: Tess Benger

Shakura Dickson

Landon Doak

Jessica Gallant

Aisha Jarvis

Ben Page

Matt Pilipiak

Fiona Sauder

Hanseul Yi

Glorious!  Embracing of difference, championing curiosity and the power of asking questions.

NOTE: This is a remount of the Bad Hats Theatre’s production from last year with a few cast changes. Such a vibrant, lively, thoughtful production requires another visit to recharge one’s batteries and see goodness in the world of this play.

The Story. Writer Fiona Sauder has used Lewis Carrol’s beloved, whimsical classic Alice in Wonderland  as an outline for her adaptation and created a version for our contemporary times. The result is Alice in Wonderland, a family musical, co-presented by Bad Hats Theatre and Soulpepper.

The whimsy is still there but it also reflects many of the changes in our world that have happened; I’m thinking of gender fluidity and how one acknowledges that, taking space, being in charge and being seen, as well as thinking for oneself and not depending on others for an opinion.   

In Fiona Sauder’s version, Alice is a precocious young girl who is endlessly curious and inquisitive. She asks questions about everything in her class of young kids. Her harried teacher, Mr. Charles has to remind her that that particular day they are only focusing on answers, not questions. Alice is still not satisfied and when she persists in asking more questions, Mr. Charles moves Alice’s desk away from the other kids so she won’t be so disruptive. But we get the measure of Alice’s imagination and curiosity when she looks out the window and sees clouds and imagines they look like animals.  Which leads her to imagine a rabbit with a pocket watch which then sends her down the rabbit hole and into a different world.

The Production.  It starts with a group of rambunctious kids coming to class, moving on their desks, chairs, and other stuff. Getting homework done quickly is an issue, especially for Alice (a wonderful Tess Benger). She has endless questions of her harried teacher Mr. Charles who is always late. For example, why are there two clocks in the room indicating different times? Tess Benger plays Alice with intense curiosity and a desperation ‘to know.’ She is not being disruptive when her hand shoots up again and again to ask a question. She just needs to know. Benger’s face creases with confusion when she is not given an answer. One can feel the intensity of her emotions at such times.  

Once Alice goes down the rabbit hole, she meets the White Rabbit (Matt Pilipiak) who is always late, Tweedle Dum (Landon Doak) and Tweedle Dee (Fiona Sauder), the Cheshire Cat (a compassionate, kind Aisha Jarvis), the Red Queen (Shakura Dickson) and a philosophical Caterpillar (Ben Page). Again, Alice’s curiosity is in full-glow thanks to Tess Benger’s shining performance.

In this version Alice’s real life in her class with her school friends melds into her imagined adventures in Wonderland. For example, Mr. Charles who is the harried teacher aware of time and played beautifully by Matt Pilipiak, also plays the White Rabbit, with the pocket watch, and is always aware of being late. Alice’s classmates become other characters. Ruby (Shakura Dickson), the smartest, most eager kid in the class becomes the confident, imperious Red Queen.

The wonderful character of the Cheshire Cat (a smiling, accommodating Aisha Jarvis) seems to have been roaming in that classroom before Alice transitioned—so maybe the cat was the class pet? Alice still has to negotiate Wonderland: to find her way along eight squares and then earn the right to be the Queen.  She is coached along the way of the many riddles by Tweedle Dum (Landon Doak) and Tweedle Dee (Fiona Sauder). Alice is tenacious about completing the challenge of dealing with eight squares before she has fulfilled the Red Queen’s challenge.         

And it’s a musical.  This company is so gifted with imagination and talent—they all play instruments during the show. Many taking turns playing piano as characters shift and change from scene to scene.  Ad they all sing beautifully.

Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko co-composed the show and it’s full of wit, an intoxicating score and lyrics that reflect the upheaval in this Wonderland, as well as in the real world. Fiona Sauder’s adaptation also reflects that juxtaposition between both worlds.

Last year I was aware that the production seemed to subtly reference George Floyd through lyrics of the fearless Red Queen, this year played with energy and confidence by Shakura Dickson.  At one point the Red Queen is instructing Alice on the rules and how to be a Queen.

She sings about taking charge:

“So you think you wanna be a Queen…

You gotta work the system, play within it

Words of wisdom work within em’

Wait to finish, don’t diminish

You’ll need a whole lot of nerve….

Take what you earn, don’t brake and don’t burn

They want service…

From fist’ll just make em  nervous

When they get nervous they wanna hurt us

Take back our space like we don’t deserve trust.

Gotta be cool. Gotta be cool. These are the Queen’s rules.”

The lyrics initially speak to being confident but then they get more pointed and seem to be subtly referring to something deeper—that reference to “When they get nervous they wanna hurt us, take back our space like we don’t deserve trust” is going into a whole deeper area reflected by this Queen.

Shakura Dickson is a strong singer/actress. There is such confidence and hauteur in this striking performance.  She is also Black. I think those lyrics are referencing Black Lives Matter and the issues that have been brought up in the past few years. Taking their place, their space and to be seen. Powerful.

But this year’s production brought new revelations in this second viewing. There is a beautiful, tender duet/scene with Alice and Caterpillar (a sweet and kind being as played by Ben Page) who is about to break out of their cocoon and change into a beautiful butterfly. Kudos to Ming Wong for her vibrant costumes.  The scene is as much about gender fluidity as it is about physically changing and growing.

But then there is a song at the end called “Questions” which explores their importance and has this lyric:

“DON’T BE AFRAID

THE THOUGHTS IN YOUR HEAD ARE IN EVERYONE’S

SOME NEVER ASK, SOME ONLY LISTEN TO SOMEONE ELSE

TRUST YOURSELF”

Considering the addictive hold the (anti)social media has on so many people who never question anything but just listen to “someone else,” that lyric above is profound.

At the centre of this wonderful production is Tess Benger as Alice,  innocent, precocious and experiences a different world from this particular Red Queen. I loved the juxtaposition. But Tess Benger also illuminates Alice’s resolve, her perception, kindness, thoughtful tenacity and a young wisdom. Alice sees two clocks in her classroom that indicate different times, and she wants to know why they are different and which one should she trust for the actual time. Her curiosity is engaging and charming.

Sue Miner has directed this with an intoxicating whimsy and a keen eye for detail. Desks are moved and frames are used to change scenes and reflect a reflective world. To suggest that Alice is going down the rabbit hole, Alice is surrounded by the moveable desks of the classroom that her friends move around her, suggesting movement downward. To suggest Alice is growing she stands on a desk and various frames are arranged in such a way to suggest Alice is larger in size. Terrific images. Sue Miner has directed a production that is wonderfully detailed, madcap, buoyant, vibrant, very inventive and heartfelt. She also adds a wonderful comment at the end of her programme note: “Keep asking questions, small and large. Because with curiosity and kindness, the world, which is going through a bit of a tender time these days, cannot help but be a better place. Happy Holiday season to you and those you love.” Perfect.

This is a dandy production of Alice in Wonderland from Bad Hats that reflects our changing world. It has grown in fearlessness and depth since last year. It will appeal to families with teenagers or even younger kids. It asks questions like: who are we? What will become of us? What do you want to be?  Questions that are asked from one generation to another. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing this glorious production.

Soulpepper presents Bad Hats Theatre’s production:

Plays until January 7, 2024.

Running Time: 85 minutes (no intermission)

 www.soulpepper.ca

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

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From l-r: Adrian Marchuk, Jeff Madden

Live and in person at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, Dec. 9, 2023. Just one performance.

Created and performed by Jeff Madden and Adrian Marchuk.

Musical direction by Mark Camilleri.

Catching up on this overdue review. They only did one concert and it was terrific.

How We Got to Jersey: A Tale of Two Frankies tells all about Jersey Boys, a ‘biography in music’ of the hugely successful pop group, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, in this lively, song-filled, heart-pounding, toe-tapping concert.

Jeff Madden and Adrian Marchuk sing all the Frankie Valli classic songs that filled Jersey Boys such as: “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” Who Loves You,” “My Eyes Adore You,” “Working My Way Back to You,” among others. They both sing the songs in that distinctive high, clear Frankie Valli voice complete with the dance moves so connected to the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Both Jeff Madden and Adrian Marchuk riff off one another with good natured joshing during the concert, but at its core they have enormous respect for each other’s talents and abilities. When they aren’t singing duets, each gets a turn at the limelight, while the other listens intently and with stillness. No upstaging with these performers.

But what makes this concert particularly special and notable is Jeff Madden and Adrian Marchuk’s own story of how they got to be in a production of Jersey Boys which began its storied history as a blockbuster Broadway musical.   

In between their beautiful singing of the various songs of Jersey Boys, each man spoke about their careers, hopes, dreams and journey’s ‘to Jersey.’

How is it possible that two small-town Ontario boys would grow up to have respectable performing careers that would catapult them into the ‘big time’ when they were both cast in Jersey Boys as Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons?

Jeff Madden was a long-time member of the Shaw Festival over the years. One could also find him often appearing in the latest hit musical in Toronto or across the country. Adrian Marchuk also was a member of the Shaw Festival and had a more varied career across the country as well playing in musicals, straight plays and creating his own concerts. And while their paths crossed as their careers expanded, it was Jersey Boys that connected them.

Both auditioned to play Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, ideally hoping it would be for the Broadway production. They were actually auditioning for the Toronto production. Both went through a grueling process, being flown to New York to audition for original members of the Four Seasons. The part of Frankie Valli was so strenuous to sing eight performances a week, that the part was divided. One singer would sing six performances a week and the other ‘Frankie” would sing two performances a week.  As it happened Jeff Madden was cast as ‘six-show-Frankie’ and Adrian Marchuk was cast as ‘two-show-Frankie.’

Each had to work as hard as the other regardless of the number of performances. Adrian Marchuk always had Jeff Madden’s back. Often during the concert Marchuk would reveal he was called in to replace Madden if he might fall ill etc. Madden was truly appreciative. Often Marchuk revealed something about his own efforts and Madden would say, with consideration, “I didn’t know that (about you).”

Both Madden and Marchuk felt that playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys was the role of a life-time. And while they each got that role and it led to better opportunities–Marchuk played a short run of the show in Las Vegas and Madden played a much longer run in Australia–it took its toll. It meant that both men were separated from their families for long periods of time. Madden was away for a year at one point and arranged to fly back to see his family every few months. Both men experienced a roller coaster of emotions. Separately, they both had a revelation about the work, their love of theatre, performing and putting things in perspective.

How We Got To Jersey, a story of two Frankies is a wonderful concert of beloved music from Jersey Boys. It is also one of the deepest felt, most emotional explorations of the performer’s life you will ever see. It will leave you with a continued appreciation of the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but it will also be a revelatory experience in the dedication and hard work that goes into a career in musical theatre.

Jeff Madden and Adrian Marchuk are such gifted creators, they obviously put their heart and soul into this concert. But at two hours and thirty minutes, it’s a bit too long. The dialogue between songs could do with some tightening of the story and would be just as emotional.

I note that when Marchuk was speaking about his section, he subtly indicated to music director Mark Camilleri who was playing the piano, to play the piano softer during those moments. Truth to tell, I don’t think any of the talented musicians should be playing any kind of music when each man is telling his story. The music is unnecessary. Hearing the story clearly is most important. Other than that, How We Got to Jersey, a story of two Frankies is a concert that should be played across the country multiple times and not just once here and there. It’s terrific.  

Next playing March 30, Port Stanley Festival Theatre.

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

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2023 TOOTSIE AWARDS

by Lynn on December 26, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

As many of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do The Tootsie Awards that are personal, eclectic, whimsical and totally subjective.

Here are this year’s selections:

PEOPLE

The Guts of a Bandit Award

Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra

Co-engineers of Coal Mine Theatre. Their original theatre space was destroyed in a fire just before their season was to begin. They needed a new space and funds to continue with their season, albeit delayed. They didn’t quit. Their supporters/audiences/champions pitched in with their fundraising. Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra went about finding a new space and producing their season (Yerma, The Effect and Appropriate) with the same standards and quality. The new space is at 2076 Danforth Ave.

Gil Garratt

Artistic director of the Blyth Festival. Not only did he adapt James Reaney’s huge The Donnelly Trilogy, he also directed it for the outdoor Harvest Stage.  He and his stalwart company often did a lot of fast maneuvering when the weather made it impossible to do a segment outdoors, so with quick reconfiguring they moved the performance into the Memorial Hall a few blocks away, and efficiently conveyed that to the expected audience. It all worked a treat.

The Chameleon Award

Ali Kazmi

Ali Kazmi is such a find actor he disappears into a role like a chameleon, as recent work would attest. In New by Pamela Sinha, (Necessary Angel/Canadian Stage) he played a reluctant husband in an arranged marriage, awkward, angst-ridden, frustrated; in Uncle Vanya (Crow’s) he played Dr. Ostrov, charming, exhausted, full of ennui at the world he lives in and smitten by a married woman; in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Crow’s) by Rajiv Joseph, he played Uday Hussein, the swaggering, sadistic son of Saddam Hussein. Uday was a cold-blooded killer, without conscience or regret. For a complete change of pace, in Beyond the Moon (Tarragon) by Anosh Irani, Ali Kazmi played an obsequious, frightened immigrant named Ayub working at a restaurant for an unscrupulous employer who kept him a virtual prisoner in the place. In each case, Ali Kazmi illuminates the truth and heart of each individual character.  

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

Thom Allison

Thom Allison is a gifted singer-actor whose humanity oozes out of every pore, no matter if he is singing in a concert, or acting on stage or on television.  There is a graciousness and nobility to his work. This summer he applied those gifts to directing the musical Rent on the Festival Stage at the Stratford Festival. Thom Allison illuminated the humanity and compassion of those mainly self-absorbed characters and made the whole enterprise pulse with life and depth.

The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes worked for eight years to adapt the epic Sanskrit poem Mahabharata for the stage. Ravi Jain also directed it, realizing its sweep, beauty, complexity, artfulness, traditions and being true to its South Asian origins. He cast actors of South Asian descent from Canada, Britain, South Asia and Australia for authenticity. It played the Shaw Festival in Canada and then travelled to the Barbican Theatre in London, England. There will be a world tour of the piece and one senses Ravi Jain’s involvement here as well. His international reach and contacts make this huge international endeavor possible.  

The Jaw-droppers—They Can Do Anything–Award

Amaka Umeh

In Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard, (Soulpeper) Amaka Umeh played Styles, the easy-going, loose-limbed photographer who helps Sizwe out of an impossible situation. They played the whip-smart, sophisticated Rosaline in Loves Labour’s Lost at the Stratford Festival. The performance was full of confidence and grace. And in Sweeter, (Cahoots) Amaka Umeh played Jedadiah, a kindly merchant, in an uncredited part. Umeh is pure grace in the part. They were also the assistant director of Sweeter.

Tawiah M’Carthy

As the director of Fairview earlier in the year at Canadian Stage, Director Tawiah M’Carthy kept a light hand on the proceedings but a keen sense of detail, attention and a strong sense of humour. There are many traps in the play that can upend the proceedings but M’Carthy avoids every one of them. Smart work. He brought his directorial eye to topdog/underdog (Canadian Stage) about the love/hate relationship between two Black brothers. The relationships were beautifully created under his careful eye. And he did the same thing for Here Lies Henry at Factory Theatre. Every second directing Damien Atkins as Henry was full of pristine detail and nuance.

His performance as Sizwe in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead shone with the character’s fears and insecurity. You could see the terror glistening in M’Carthy’s eyes. This was a gripping performance in every way.

Tom Rooney.

Last year Tom Rooney played Uncle Vanya, who was hunched, bent, defeated and disappointed by life (the production will be remounted in 2024). Last winter Tom Rooney played a canine, Majnoun, ‘arms’ in front like a dog, in Fifteen Dogs (Crow’s) that was thoughtful, proud, intellectual and smart. And this past summer at the Shaw Festival he played King Magnus in The Apple Cart.  As Tom Rooney played him, King Magnus is beautifully well-mannered, self-deprecating in order to put his guest at ease, a keen listener and very astute. Magnus can parse out an argument but never plays the game of one-upmanship until and unless it is life or death. Rooney’s performances are full of nuance, subtext and truth.  

The One(s) to Watch Award

Sophia Fabiilli

Playwright. In Liars at a Funeral at the Blyth Festival, Sophia Fabiilli has written a devilishly funny, complicated farce. She has a wonderful facility with language and the jokes come naturally from people who are funny and irreverent. To ramp up the laughs, not only do people enter and exit rooms just as someone arrives that they should not see, Fabiilli does it with twins.

Lucy Hill and Justin Otto

Actors.

In Liars at a Funeral, again at the Blyth Festival, Lucy Hill plays both Dee Dee and Mia, twin sisters with different attitudes and personalities. Justin Otto plays both Quint the awkward, insecure assistant at the funeral home who is sweet on Dee Dee, and Justin Otto also plays Cam, a lively jock who loves Mia. I look forward to see more work from Lucy Hill and Justin Otto.

Zaynna Khalife

Actor. Zaynna Khalife played Fatima in The New Canadian Curling Club at Theatre Orangeville. Fatima is a newly arrived immigrant from Syria is beautifully awkward as she tries to fit in. She is also full of angst because of her brother back in Syria. Zaynna Khalife gave a confident, layered performance as Fatima that was notable for an actor so young.

Alicia Plummer

Actor. She played Sweet Pea in Sweeter and played her as pure sunlight, buoyant, always cheerful and optimistic. She can read a situation and react accordingly. And she spreads her love around, especially to The Mango Tree. Alicia Plummer’s work is true, detailed and open-hearted.

Alicia Richardson

Playwright. She wrote Sweeter produced by Cahoots Theatre. It was a wonderful play for both children and adults about a young girl named Sweet Pea who loved a Mango Tree. The language was vibrant, funny and distinctive. Alicia Richardson wrote about the importance of listening to plants as well as people and how love can change everything. Alicia Richardson is a voice that is wise, true, open-hearted and needed.

PRODUCTIONS

The Delicate and Fierce Award

Metamorphoses 2023.

Produced by Theatre Smith-Gilmour.

Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour, the creators of Theatre Smith-Gilmour, have been producing thought provoking movement-based work that challenges the status quo for 43 years and they have done it brilliantly. Metamorphoses 2023 is a perfect example of their imagination, societal concerns and moral compass.

Metamorphoses 2023 is based on Ovid’s huge poem Metamorphoses that he wrote in 8 CE. Metamorphoses 2023 has been adapted to reflect our world in 2023 by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour.

As the play information notes: “Survival is at the core of Metamorphoses 2023, a bold and contemporary adaptation of Ovid’s epic poem, that realizes the original text’s mythic elements through mime, illusion, spoken word, silence and south Asian dance.” Their presentation is delicate. The attention to detail and the search for the truth is fierce.

It Creeps Up On You and is a Gut-Punch That Leaves You Winded Award

(This is a worthy repeat from last year (in Stratford), because it played at Crow’s Theatre in the Studio this year.

Girls & Boys

Produced by Here For Now Theatre and Crow’s Theatre.

Written by Dennis Kelly, with an astonishing performance by Fiona Mongillo and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson. Here for Now Theatre, the scrappy little company in Stratford, Ont. has produced bracing, compelling theatre since it began producing. And the same praise can be applied to Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, headed by Artistic Director, Chris Abraham. He picked up Here for Now’s production of Girls & Boys for a Toronto run. It’s about a confident, charming woman telling us the harrowing story of how her marriage and her life unravelled slowly and irrevocably. At the centre of it was Fiona Mongillo giving one of the most composed, harrowing performances you will see in a long time.  Gripping in every single way.

Whatever the Title, It’s Powerful and Challenging Award.

Actor/writer Cliff Cardinal wrote a scathing, powerful challenging play for Crow’s Theatre about land acknowledgements, his anger at what he has to endure as an Indigenous man, dealing with ‘the woke’ and allies, among others.

The play was first titled: William Shakespeare’s As You Like it—A radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal. I disliked it because I sensed he was giving ‘the finger’ to the audience.

He took the play to The Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa with a slightly different title: As You Like It—a radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal. I wondered if he had changed the play along with the title so I went to see it in Ottawa, to see what I might have missed. Cliff Cardinal was still brash, angry and challenging, but the play had been changed from top to bottom, expanded and now skewered everybody. And I changed my mind. It was terrific.

In yet another iteration, Cliff Cardinal brought the play back to Toronto for Mirvish Productions, this time entitled: The Land Acknowledgement—or As You Like It. He removed ‘a trick’ with this iteration, but it was still powerful and still challenging.

Small But Mighty (Companies) Award

The following two small companies have been consistent in producing bracing, challenging plays that reflect our world and introduces us to talent that goes from strength to strength.  

Cahoots

Cahoots is led by Tanisha Taitt, the Artistic Director, Lisa Alves, the Managing Producer and Samantha Vu, the producer.

Tanisha Taitt has an unerring eye and ear for talent and takes the time and patience to nurture and develop it. Lisa Alves and Samantha Vu work their magic to see that the playwright and director’s vision is realized.

This year Cahoots produced a fascinating production of Between a Wok and a Hot Pot by Amanda Lin and directed by Esther Jun. In the play, Amanda Lin delves into the topic of cultural identity, being ‘authentic’ and being true to one’s Asian roots, all while guiding her audience in making a delicious hot pot.

Cahoots also produced Sweeter by Alicia Richardson, ostensibly a play for young audiences, but it is applicable to all audiences. It is a beautifully created story and production for both children and adults. It’s heartfelt, perceptive and wise.  Tanisha Taitt nurtured, encouraged and worked with Alicia Richardson to develop her play. Taitt also directed it with sensitivity. The folks at Cahoots are fearless when it comes to producing needed theatre.    

The Howland Company

The company was formed 10 years ago and is an artist-led and artist-driven Toronto-based theatre company. Howland’s leadership model is made up of the following core-artists (thus proving that a collective can lead a company and produce wonderful work): Ruth Goodwin, Sam Hale, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Cameron Laurie, Jareth Li, Paolo Santalucia, Hallie Seline.

The company produced the following bracing plays this year:

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

Heroes of the Fourth Turning by Will Arbery and directed by Philip Akin. Friends gather at a friend’s house to celebrate a former professor who has now become the college president.  Explosive in every way. Listen, consider, ruminate on another point of view: the Christian right in America, and engage.

Hypothetical Baby, written and performed by Rachel Cairns directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster.

A deeply personal and intellectually rigorous exploration of the many issues surrounding the choice to have a baby or not and all the existential, societal and ethical questions surrounding it.  

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

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This is a fantastic Summer Festival:

A black and pink logo

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BLYTH FESTIVAL CELEBRATES HALF A CENTURY                                                                                                           

Blyth, ON 

This summer, Blyth Festival is celebrating a major milestone, half a century in the making.

On June 12, 2024 the Blyth Festival will open its 50th season of all Canadian plays.

Running both indoors and outdoors, from June 12th-September 7th, in the cherished Blyth Memorial Community Hall and on the newly built outdoor Harvest Stage. A Homecoming season!

Artistic Director, Gil Garratt, says “this is a season of celebration: 50 years since its founding, the Blyth Festival is boldly mounting five brand new World Premieres, and offering one technicolor look back at the inspiration for it all. 

Back in 1975, Blyth’s founders dreamed of building a theatre that would put local stories, Canadian stories, centre stage. Fifty years later, that dream burns brighter than ever. All of the plays in the 2024 season were created and developed right here, in Huron County, and tell the stories, fictional and historic, of lives lived in this community. These are your stories, your neighbour’s stories, your family’s stories, the stories of your town, your farm, your county, and your country. This is really a season of homecomings.”

50 Years of 100% Original Canadian Plays

Having welcomed more than a million patrons through the doors, the Blyth Festival has grown into a hub of Canadian playwriting, boasting more than 150+ world premieres. 

Outdoors on the Harvest Stage: 

The Farm Show: Then and Now by Theatre Passe Muraille with additions by                            the 2024 Company                                                                                         June 12 – Aug 4

Arguably the most influential play in Canadian theatre history, The Farm Show was originally produced in a barn just fifteen minutes outside of Blyth, and was directly responsible for the founding of the Festival. This gentle adaptation brings you the original in all its glory, and shines a light on its singular legacy in our community. Come see the show that inspired the very dream of the Blyth Festival. 

Premiere

Onion Skins and Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes by Alison Lawrence         Aug 14 – Sept 7

Inspired by the book by Bonnie Sitter and Shirleyan English                                                                      

This nostalgic play dramatizes the incredible stories of Canada’s Farmerettes; young women all over the country who left the big cities to work as farm labourers on Canadian farms as part of the war effort during WW2. Many of these young women learned a lot more than how to dig potatoes, pull carrots, and muck a stall; they learned essential truths about who they were, who they wanted to be, and what true and lasting friendships looked like. A play about coming of age as young women in a time of change. 

Indoors at Memorial Hall

Premiere

Saving Graceland by Gil Garratt                                                                   June 19 – Aug 3

It’s 2019 in Clinton, ON. Newly retired and ready for adventure, Gord and Orillia have been Elvis fans since they were teenagers. In twenty-five years, they’ve never missed their annual pilgrimage to the Collingwood Elvis Festival. Just as they’re readying to embrace nothing but Presley and the CPP, their young grandchild arrives unexpectedly on the doorstep, upending their future plans in ways they never dreamed. A love-me-tender family drama about the King and kincare.

Premiere

The Golden Anniversaries by Mark Crawford                                              July 4 – Aug 4

From the author of The New Canadian Curling Club and The Birds and the Bees comes a new play about love and laughs in the golden years. For as long as they have been married, Glen and Sandy Golden have been celebrating their wedding anniversary by coming to the same cottage on the lake for an annual weekend of quiet romance. And this year marks a major milestone: 50 years of wedded bliss. Well…mostly bliss…er…there was that one time…oh, don’t get me started! Join the Goldens for a night of he-said, she-said, remember-whens, what-happens-now, and a long-term love for the ages. 

Premiere

Resort to Murder by Birgitte Solem                                                  July 24 – Aug 31

A laugh-a-minute murder mystery. When Brett and Viv inherit an old family mansion on Lake Huron, they dream of starting a country resort, but the couple have very different visions of what a tourist destination should be. For Viv: a spa, and quiet retreat. For Brett: a murder mystery-themed escape room…obviously. Just a few nights before they welcome their first guests, Brett and Viv gather their reluctant staff in the attic for a trial run. When a sudden storm rolls in off the lake, the lights go out, and the doors lock, their light-hearted game suddenly turns into an electrifying night of murderous confessions, and twists and turns that will leave you breathless. Enjoy your stay!

Premiere

The Trials of Maggie Pollock by Beverley Cooper                          July 31 – Aug 29

Seer? Swindler? Sorcerer? The true story of the last woman in Canada to be convicted of witchcraft…and who just so happened to have been born in Blyth! Arrested on her home farm just outside of town, held in the historic Gaol near Lake Huron, and tried in Goderich court, her case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Ontario. Long after the arrival of the telephone, the motor-car, and the electric light bulb, Maggie Pollock faced off against official superstition in Canada’s courts. 

The 2024 season will run June through September, 2024. Full season details will be available soon on the Blyth Festival website www.blythfestival.com 

Tickets go on sale to members (priority dates are according to level of membership) starting January 15, 2024  at 9am by phone only. Sales will open to the General Public beginning April 2 at 9am, by phone and online. 

Passes are back! Until December 31, 2023 passes are for sale for 2, 4, or 6 tickets. Significant savings are available and prices will increase Jan. 1, 2024.

There will be a number of events and activities planned over the course of the season to celebrate this milestone. Please check the website for updates. 

Bonanza Weekend will run Aug. 2-4, 2024 and will also include a number of special events to celebrate the 50th season. 

If you would like to support the work of the Blyth Festival by becoming a member please call 1-877-862-5984 or visit blythfestival.com for details.  

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Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest (Guloien Theatre), Toronto, Ont. A Crow’s Theatre and The Musical Stage Company production. Extended until March 17, 2024.

www.crowstheatre.com

Composer, librettist, orchestrator, Dave Malloy

Directed by Chris Abraham

Choreography by Ray Hogg

Music direction by Ryan DeSouza

Co-set designer, Julie Fox

Co-set designer, Joshua Quinlan

Costume designer, Ming Wong

Lighting designer, Kimberly Purtell

Sound designer, Ryan Borshuk

Cast: Divine Brown

Evan Buliung

Rita Dottor

Camille Eanga-Selenge

Donna Garner

George Krissa

Lawrence Libor

Marcus Nance

Heeyun Park

Tyler Pearse

Andrew Penner

Louise Pitre

A fiercely bold, daring production, pulsing with emotion and activity. Stunning performances, but the sound balance needs attention because the reverb of the hard-playing orchestra almost drowns out the singers.

The Story. Creator Dave Malloy has taken a small section of Tolstoy’s epic novel, “War and Peace” -the section where Natasha, in love with and betrothed to Andrey, meets dashing Anatole and is smitten with him—and fashioned his own classic and yet contemporary story.

The Production. Director Chris Abraham and his creators: Ray Hogg (choreographer), Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan (co-set designers), Ming Wong (costume designer), Kimberly Purtell (lighting) and Ryan Borshuk (sound design) have put the audience right in the middle of the opulence of Russia’s aristocracy and upper classes in 1812.

The audience sits on three sides of the raised playing area. The raised platform revolves often during the production. Staircases lead to the upper level which go along the sides and the back of the stage. The orchestra is arranged along the upper level. Scenes are staged up there as well. Action goes on in front of the platform and around the sides of the space. It gives the production an immersive feel to it, although the audience sits in one place.

Large swaths of red drapery hang down and to the sides on the upper level of the stage. Ornate adornments are attached to the corners of the platform, giving it a sense of ‘richness’. The cast and the visible orchestra are all in elegant, period costumes. In the performance I saw stage hands in costume, as well as actors, pushed the platform around during the action. On the ground level there is an upright piano at the back on which are many crystal bottles etc.

Pierre (Evan Buliung), rich, unhappily married, disheveled and alcoholic, gets things started in the “Prologue” that introduces the characters (reminiscent of the form of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” but much wittier). Evan Buliung has a rich voice, precise diction and a clear sense of ennui. It’s a performance that is big and heartbreaking.

To give an example of Dave Malloy’s wit, irreverence and efficiency in telling who is who in the show, here is a ‘truncated’ version of the Prologue lyrics by way of introduction:

Prologue Lyrics

 

[PIERRE]


There’s a war going on
Out there somewhere

And Andrey isn’t here
There’s a war going on
Out there somewhere
And Andrey isn’t here

[ALL]
There’s a war going on
Out there somewhere
And Andrey isn’t here
There’s a war going on
Out there somewhere
And Andrey isn’t here

And this is all in your program
You are at the opera
Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot
‘Cause it’s a complicated Russian novel
Everyone’s got nine different names
So look it up in your program
We’d appreciate it, thanks a lot
………

[NATASHA]
Natasha is young
She loves Andrey with all her heart


[ALL]
She loves Andrey with all her heart
Natasha is young
And Andrey isn’t here

[SONYA]
Sonya is good
Natasha’s cousin and closest friend

……….



[MARYA]
Marya is old-school, a grande dame of Moscow
Natasha’s godmother, strict yet kind


……..
Anatole!

[ANATOLE]
Anatole is hot
He spends his money on women and wine


[ALL]
He spends his money on women and wine
Anatole is hot
Marya is old-school
Sonya is good
Natasha is young
And Andrey isn’t here

[HÉLÈNE]
Hélène is a slut
Anatole’s sister, married to Pierre

[ALL]
Anatole’s sister, married to Pierre
Hélène is a slut
Anatole is hot
Marya is old-school
Sonya is good
Natasha is young
And Andrey isn’t here

[DOLOKHOV]
Dolokhov is fierce, but not too important
Anatole’s friend, a crazy good shot

[ALL]
Anatole’s friend, a crazy good shot
Dolokhov is fierce
Hélène is a slut
Anatole is hot
Marya is old-school
Sonya is good
Natasha is young
And Andrey isn’t here

Chandeliers and caviar, the war can’t touch us here
Minor characters!

[BOLKONSKY]
Old Prince Bolkonsky is crazy

[MARY]
And Mary is plain

[MARY & BOLKONSKY]
Andrey’s family, totally messed up

[BALAGA]
And Balaga’s just for fun!

[ALL]
Balaga’s just for fun!
Balaga is fun
Bolkonsky is crazy
Mary is plain
Dolokhov is fierce
Hélène is a slut
Anatole is hot
Marya is old-school
Sonya is good
Natasha is young
And Andrey isn’t here

And what about Pierre?
Dear, bewildered and awkward Pierre?
What about Pierre?
Rich, unhappily married Pierre?
…………

After everybody and their relationships are introduced in song, they then sing about their emotions, philosophies, regrets, passions and hopes. Relationships are established with the major one being Natasha and Andrey until she meets Anatole. Natasha is played with pent-up, breathless emotion by Hailey Gillis, as she kisses her fiancée Andrey (Marcus Nance) good-bye as he goes off to fight in the Napoleonic.

On a trip to Moscow Natasha meets the dashing Anatole. Anatole is played by the dashing George Krissa and Natasha becomes instantly besotted by him. Anatole is a charming cad; all swagger and flexing pecks and George Krissa plays him beautifully.  The specter of Andrey (a noble, elegant Marcus Nance) passes in and around the action as an “absent” presence for all who remain at home. Natasha is conflicted about her feelings with both men. Anatole is determined to have her. She is warned. But does she listen?

The cast is very strong. They are all beautiful singers. But notable in smaller roles is Heeyun Park as Mary (Andrey’s unhappy sister). She has an arresting economy in her playing and sings beautifully. Lawrence Libor plays Dolokhov, a hot-headed friend of Anatole; he is watchful, dangerous and arrogant. Lawrence Libor has been compelling in everything I’ve seen him in.

Director Chris Abraham establishes the heightened emotions of the characters and the situations by clearly illuminating the headiness of the relationships. I would assume that the constant swirl of activity of the cast scurrying up and down the staircases, maneuvering around that revolving platform and all the other frenetic movement in the space, is a collaboration with choreographer Ray Hogg. The purpose of it all would be to created the sense of grand passions of operatic proportions. Ok, but it’s exhausting, not just for the cast, but also for the audience. Could the same result be established with less (unnecessary, constant) movement. I betcha.

The Guloien Theatre has been used to great effect in many other Crow’s productions. But this is a musical with a blasting orchestra under the direction of Ryan DeSouza and the sound has got to be balanced better so that they ‘support’ the singers and not almost drown them out. The reverb of the piano etc. is a constant presence in the production. How many times does a person/critic/scribbler/patron have to say: “IT’S TOO LOUD!!!’ before anybody pays attention?

Comment. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is a huge accomplishment for Crow’s which is on a well deserved roll of bracing, challenging, exciting productions. It’s a story of huge emotions and passions; philosophical musings in song and a clear vision by a gifted director. Please fix the sound.

A Crow’s Theatre and The Musical Stage Company production.

Extended until March 17, 2024.

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

www.crowstheatre.com

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

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Live and in person at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ont. David Mirvish presents in association with James Seabright and Joshua Beaumont the David Pugh production. Plays until Jan. 21, 2024.

www.mirvish.com

Written by Isabel McArthur (after Jane Austen)

Directed by Isabel McArthur and Simon Harvey

Comedy director, Jos Houben

Designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita

Lighting by Colin Grenfell

Musical supervisor, Michael John McCarthy

Choreographer, Emily Jane Boyle

Sound designers, Michael John McCarthy and Naimh Gaffney for Autograph

Cast: Ruth Brotherton

Christina Gordon

Lucy Gray

Dannie Harris

Leah Jamieson

Brilliant, cheeky, irreverent, bristling with witty humour and the brains and talent to reference Jane Austen’s 1813 classic novel of manners and apply it to 2023.

The Story. The story is set in the 19th century in England and all that entails for a family of five daughters. It follows Elizabeth Bennet and her family: her talkative, social climbing mother, Mrs. Bennet, her silent, newspaper-reading father, Mr. Bennet and her four sisters, Jane, Lydia, Mary and Kitty as they navigate the social mores of the times.

While Mr. Bennet has property in Hertfordshire it’s entailed which means it can only be passed down to a male heir or a male chosen to inherit. The daughters cannot inherit their father’s estate unless they marry. So, Mrs. Bennet is busy trying to arrange this.

The title refers to Elizabeth’s feelings about Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (or just Darcy for our purposes). To Elizabeth, Darcy is an arrogant, prideful man who looks down on her family because they are ‘poor’ and have a lower social standing than he does. She in turn is prejudiced against him for his arrogance and for what she has heard about him. Both soften when they actually get to know each other. The rest of the story is a complex maneuvering of class, social order, set rules about conduct and status, finding the perfect mate and if they are lucky, love as well.   

The Production. Designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita has created a wide, sweeping banistered staircase, with a ‘bridge’ that crosses over the upper part of the stage. That staircase says everything about the elegance and size of that house. There are various doors for surprise entrances and exists. Furniture rolls on and off with ease.

Five maids ‘a’ cleaning appear on the stage as the audience files in. They are all dressed in white long ‘work’ dresses and black ‘work boots.’ Some of the maids come into the audience and polish the armrests of the seats in the theatre. Others use long-poled dusters to reach the upper areas of the set. One wears yellow rubber gloves and holds a plunger to go off and clean the toilet(s).  When she returns, she is disheveled and holds a filthy plunger with brown-stained gloves. Brilliant. These are hardworking women who often work in filth, know all the secrets of that household and are aware of the restricted world in which they live.

In short, irreverent order the five maids tell the story, sort of, of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice” playing all the parts, including the men. They also establish the rules of inheritance, engagement and social mores of the time at the top of the production. Sidelong glances at the audience underscore points deemed ironic to today’s audiences.

Is it necessary to have read Jane Austen’s classic to be up on the story? Nope. Playwright Isabel McArthur has written a smart, laugh-out-loud funny, irreverent, pointed play that tells the story and references our modern world. The five gifted actors playing the maids and everybody else keep you up to speed. If you have read the book then you will be familiar with its first line and understand the irony dripping from it and smile knowingly:  

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

The reality is that women at the time needed to marry (and marry ‘well’) to ensure social status, class, income and inheritance, just to name a few. As some of the maids tell the story others go off to get into a simple costume over their work dress to play a character. The changes from maid to character and back to maid are done smoothly, efficiently and swiftly by the cast under the careful, inventive eyes of directors Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey. Character changes seem like sleight of hand, they are so beautifully achieved. As one maid goes off in one direction, another character appears from somewhere else and yet another is created by the maid we saw going off originally. The comings and goings of maids to transform into other characters is beautifully achieved and exquisite in their economy.

For example, Dannie Harris in a frilly frock plays Mrs. Bennet as flighty, dithery and fussy. In a blink Dannie Harris exits as Mrs. Bennet only to appear at the top of the cross over, now dressed in a frock coat, sucked in cheeks and haughty air as Mr. Darcy. As flighty and animated as Mrs. Bennet is, Mr. Darcy is still, watchful and condescending just with a look. Both are perfectly achieved by Dannie Harris. And she isn’t alone in that wonderful achievement. Ruth Brotherton flits from innocuous maid to the feisty, poised Elizabeth Bennet who thinks she has the measure of Mr. Darcy. Leah Jamieson plays Mary Bennet with large glasses and a studious air about her playing up Mary’s plainness. Just as quickly Leah Jamieson becomes the dull, double-chinned clergyman, Mr. Collins. Christine Gordon plays (among others) Jane Bennet, kind, considerate, demure and in love with Charles Bingley. Lucy Gray gives an ache of a performance as Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s friend. With just a look of longing at Elizabeth, we get the clear sense that Charlotte loves Elizabeth  more than just friendship, but it’s a love that would not be tolerated then. Charlotte does what she must to protect herself from being a spinster—she marries the boring Collins when Elizabeth refuses him, so you ache for Charlotte twice. There is such economy of acting and communication in telling the story and more important, establishing the depth of characters in this production, it’s breathtaking.

The five maids comment on the goings on with wit, irreverence and impish humour and suffuse it with a modern feminism. It’s flippant and yet there is an edge.   

Comment. Pride & Prejudice (sort of) is one of the wittiest, sharpest, beautifully written and crafted productions to play here in a long time. It’s a glorious accomplishment.

David Mirvish presents in association with James Seabright and Joshua Beaumont the David Pugh production.

Plays until Jan. 21, 2024.

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

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