Wednesday, January 16, 2019

1979


1979
BY MICHAEL HEALEY

"Canada is a country built against any common geographic, historic or cultural sense."
PIERRE TRUDEAU

CHRISTOPHER HUNT AS FLORA MACDONALD (ABOVE) 
AND PIERRE TRUDEAU (BELOW)

The amazingly executed performance doubling of iconic Canadian political figures in the current production of 1979 acts as a kind of symbolic theatrical gesture toward the fact that the twentieth century saw decades of Liberal governments, with infrequent Conservative debacles taking hold, attempting to control a mass of land far too complex and far too fragmented for any single political body to handle. But Joe Clark tried for a very short time beginning in 1979. He may be remembered as a hapless bright eyed do gooder and/or a man with brave socially insightful policies that a majority would refuse to allow themselves the time and patience to endure. Clark's 'short term pain for long term gain' agenda was never given a chance to create a more equitable economic environment. But now, in 2019, that economic impatience seems even more entrenched as the rich get richer and the poor get... Oh dear, cliches abound, and there are plenty of very effective one liners, mannerisms, and dual drag roles that could have easily lapsed into cliche in this production. But the three person cast brings the men and women who surrounded Clakre during his short lived reign into sharp relief and reveals the complex, frequently comic configuration of events and characters that have contributed to the creation of a national political landscape that continues to confound through a predictable and infuriating relay race between liberal and conservative. 

Michael Healey's hilarious, research ridden, and highly detailed script reminds audiences of how the surface personality of a sharp witted politician, however manipulative and/or corrupt, can win a political battle when pitted against the sincere, corduroy clothed, mild mannered dedication of a man like Joe Clark in 1979.

Christopher Hunt's Pierre Trudeau is a superbly crafted caricature that blends a kind of campiness that conjures a cross between the father of our current Prime Minister and Oscar Wilde, with hints of Quentin Crisp, Dame Edna, and Piers Morgan. At one point Hunt appears in a female role that has just been played by a female perfumer, with the woman (Jamie Konchak) playing a man. The doubling is layered and complex and acts as the perfect counterpart to a layered, complex, and hilariously infuriating political landscape. 

Jamie Konchak matches Hunt's skill as she plays men and women with a convincing comic panache, and devours Clark in a mythified, and highly effective speculative moment between Clark and a fledgling Stephen Harper. The power of the performance is both thrilling and frightening as we witness the struggle between two men striving for extremely different things in a country torn apart by  the sheer magnitude of all these provinces and all these issues struggling for a piece of this frozen tract.

Philip Riccio's convincing and consistent portrayal of Joe Clark is simultaneously stalwart and bumbling as he faces immense obstacles and powerful opponents. Riccio's physical timing reaches its peak in a final scene when he must partially disrobe, all the time silent as he faces the final demise of his brief presence on Parliament Hill. Riccio creates a wonderful sense of the serious and the silly as he skilfully navigates a single room setting that traps his character in a cage of slim power and inevitable downfall.

1979 has to be, and is, very funny because it would be much too terrifying to have to witness this reflective treatise on all that has happened since 1979 were it not sprinkled heavily with the dark comic terror of late twentieth and early twenty first century politics.  Director Miles Potter has moved his characters through a wordy, single setting narrative with sharp, powerful blocking. A single door lends a farcical tone to the dramatic proceedings as characters enter and exit with the bravado of scuttling pawn-like creatures in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Ultimately the potentially brilliant mouse flees and the crafty cat comes front and centre. But of course, Clark's tenure as Prime Minister did not stop him from continuing on for decades as a successful survivor of - as Pierre Trudeau once said - a country "whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts [and whose] main imports are baseball players and acid rain." 

JAMIE KONCHAK AS MAUREEN MCTEER, PHILIP RICCIO AS JOE CLARK


JAMIE KONCHAK AS STEPHEN HARPER, PHILIP RICCIO AS JOE CLARK

RUNNING AT CANADIAN STAGE (BERKELEY STREET) 
UNTIL JANUARY 27TH






AFTER THE FIRE




LEFT TO RIGHT - Louise Lambert as Carmell, Jesse Gervais as Ty, 
Kaitlyn Riordan as Laura, Sheldon Elter as Barry
AFTER THE FIRE
* A NOTE ABOUT THE “BEAST”
A fire started 15 kilometres southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on May 1st 2016. At its peak the fire covered 85,000 hectares and displaced the entire city. 2579 homes were destroyed by the disaster, which had a total financial impact estimated at $10 billion - easily the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. Though officials say that humans most likely started the fire, a definitive cause has never been determined.

* from the program notes for AFTER THE FIRE

The current production of Matthew Mackenzie’s AFTER THE FIRE is, forgive me, a blazing success. The aftermath of such a tragic event is not the place where one might expect to discover great comedy. Nevertheless, by turning catastrophe into a domestic dramedy of sorts, the playwright continually goes for the laughs and succeeds at every turn. Even the simple and effective set/props landscape has its comic moments as mounds of dirt, truck nuts, and hockey innuendoes surface with great power, creating cross narratives and bold imagery that both sadden and lighten the impact of a recurring environmental apocalypse. Global warming smoulders beneath the questions being raised as four characters in search of no real answers make their way through a disturbingly hilarious and predictably terrifying predicament.
The cast is skilfully blocked by director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett as the performers race around the playing space with breakneck pacing and rapid-fire dialogue, giving the play a frantic tone of desperation and reflective conflict. On opening night some of the detailed dialogue went missing as extreme physicality frequently interfered with crisp vocal delivery. Nevertheless, a standout performance by Louise Lambert as Carmell, marked by clear powerful enunciation and emotional diversity, reveals the requirements of a script hell bent on rapidly wringing humour, hostility, and poignancy from a complex and tyrannical mixture of greed, mystery, camaraderie, and tragicomic mishap.
Jesse Gervais as Ty delivers a mixed performance that finds its strength in a fine sense of vocal delivery and a wryness of facial expression and physical clumsiness that casts him as the haphazard manboy trying to atone for his at times misidentified, at times toxic behaviour that contributes to the greater issues at hand - when will a collective reconciliation between 'man'kind and all its cohorts begin to reign in our increasingly reckless behaviour? Who is responsible for the fire and how long will communities in the midst of apocalyptic turmoil live within a kind of social and cultural denial about the effect of industry, technology, and out of control consumerisn that destroys the land? As Ty, Gervais represents a skilled mixture of loveable buffoonery and frightening out of touch social and cultural behaviour, symbolizing the greater activity of a global 'civilization' that simultaneously builds and destroys.
Sheldon Elter as Barry adds a stabilizing poignancy to the overall tone of the performance narrative as he delivers speeches about a strange bird that simultaneously make him the butt of a symbolic joke, as well as a spiritual harbinger of great insight and wisdom. His connection to the land both alienates and magnetizes his presence as he attempts to make sense of the natural world he loves - a world that is being destroyed at an ever increasing rate.
Kaitlyn Riordan’s Laura provides another stabilizing element as she takes on the role of Carmell’s conflicted confidante and invaluable friend. Her final scene with Lambert - and an agonizingly absurdly hilarious prop - give the final moments a shocking ad satisfying punch. We may leave the theatre without a final resolution regarding the fire, as there may never be one, but we do leave with the memory of a playwright's incredible knack for taking the worst of times and finding domestic strife and humour all within the same blazing chaos of a planet under siege by its own hapless inhabitants.
Opening night provided a moving and extended land acknowledgement that framed the narrative with spiritual guidance that contributes to an ongoing testament to the ways in which we may try to find forms of solace and reconciliation in the midst of environmental chaos.
AFTER THE FIRE RUNS AT THE THEATRE CENTRE UNTIL JANUARY 19TH

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

WIZARD OF OZ REVIEW








Running until January 5th at the Elgin Theatre - 

Do not miss this years instalment of the Ross Petty holiday musical version of The Wizard of Oz. This spectacular seasonal event relies upon powerful performances from the entire cast - with standouts by Michael De Rose as Sugarbum (the stock drag fairy character) and Eric Craig as the Tin Man as they collaborate in a show stopping duet of the iconic pop tune All By Myself

The arrangement of this anthem like song (Joseph Tritt, Music Director), as a kind of call and response duet, gives the performers ample opportunity to reveal their intense vocal powers  by way of a lighthearted oneupmanship that both entertains and surprises delighted audiences during the gorgeous vocal gymnastics occurring between characters. Coupling the fairy with the Tin Man also creates a sly, flirtatious, and seriocomic romantic crescendo for the two characters who find themselves longing for partnership, community, and camaraderie as they traverse that yellow brick road in search to Oz. And Sugarbum's final landing place in the Emerald City is a wonderful twist on power relations and the collective strength of believing in fairies.

Sugarbum with the Tin Man (Eric Craig)

Camille Eanga-Selenge's Dorothy is a wonderful, wise, and wide-eyed characterization as she carries her adorable Toto through a maze of personality and human emotion. Her beautifully delivered solo songs give her great empathy and leadership as she deftly  (frequently putting herself in dastardly danger) manages her comrades along the way.

Camille Eanga-Selenge as Dorothy

Eddie Glen, in dual roles, takes on an Elton John like quality as he sweeps in and out of the action with great comic power and commanding musical vocals. In his stylish emerald green suit he becomes a collage-like version of iconic figures ranging from Elton to Bowie, and at times even a vaguely reminiscent version of a wiggy, orange'ish upswept shadow of Barry Manilow's once riddled presence. 

Eddie Glen (centre)  left - Eric Craig (Tin Man), Matt Nethersole (Scarecrow) / right -Daniel Williston (Lion) Olive (Toto), Camille Eanga-Selenge (Dorothy)

Sugarbum with the Munchkins and Sara-Jeanne Hosie (far right) as Miss Gulch/Sulphura

As necessary backup during the long journey along that famous brick road, the Munchkins are constantly involved in fabulous choreography and song by director/choreographer Tracey Flye - whose skill for filling the stage with intricate dance movement and ensemble action is impressive and complex throughout the whole delightful spectacle.  

Another standout performance comes from Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Sulphura, the sexy foil for all that happens along the way. Her strong layered musical vocals and detailed characterization, with a wicked emotional range, punctuates the action with the conflict necessary to this coming of age tale of a young woman in search of hearth and home in the midst of a terrible twister of emotion and physical challenge.
Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Sulphura)
Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Miss Gulch)

Set and costumes by Cory Sincennes provide bright pops of tone and emphatic cartoon-like shapes that delineate the fantasy-like quality of the overall environment - with dense shades of purple, black, blue, and green sets and backdrops displaying fantastical contrast for the evil moments of Sulphura's loathsome plotting against Dorothy and her friends. The always refreshing 'gay' undertones surface blithely at one point when one of the characters lays claim to the cheerfully citational/liberationist slogan "I am a friend of Dorothy's." Through thick and thin. Aren't we all?

Scarecrow (Matt Nethersole) and Lion (Daniel Williston) round out the cast with remarkable performances that give their loveable characters depth, comic versatility, and musical distinction. And then there is the amazingly well-behaved Olive, in her non-speaking non-barking part as Toto, who is most certainly not in Kansas any longer. She is in a wonderful pastiche of current political Toronto trials, comic interplay, and emotional twists for the entire family to enjoy, grapple, and interact with at this wonderful annual Toronto holiday event. Beautifully rendered this year with a stellar cast, wonderful music, and a version of a great old story updated for contemporary audiences to relate to, revel in and thoroughly enjoy.
THE MUNCHKINS
LION - DANIEL WILLISTON (WHO CARRIED A DELIGHTFULLY  'GAY' PURSE THROUGHOUT - NO, IT DID NOT FALL OUT OF HIS MOUTH!!!)
SCARECROW - MATT NETHERSOLE

AT THE ELGIN THEATRE 
UNTIL JANUARY 5TH

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

THE MESSAGE AT TARRAGON THEATRE

THE MESSAGE
 

The current run of Jason Sherman’s Marshall McLuhan late life bio-play, after 15 years of a long stall due in part to the McLuhan estate’s* displeasure regarding Sherman’s take on the communications icons life and work, is a timely (perhaps even more timely than 2003) meditation on all that has happened to the world, social media, and the planet in a decade and a half. 

* https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/playwright-defends-mcluhan-portrait/article18285674/

With the aid of a stellar cast, R.H. Thomson’s intense and impeccable rendering of a man at odds with language due to serious health challenges is at times painful - even frustrating - to observe as the timeline flips back and forth between his early career and his final days. And yet the comedy that the playwright manages  to insert into the script, the ways in which a trio of ‘good old boys' play with pseudo playboy bunnies, puns, and jokes, give the piece a fast paced rhythm and style that clips along toward an inevitable ending. 
All of the players deliver nuanced, break neck performances, with Sarah Orenstein and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster inhabiting standout multiple roles as the women who enter the ‘boys club’ and create formidable counterparts who simultaneously challenge and assimilate among the powers that be. Peter Hutt and Patrick McManus, also in multiple roles, round out the ensemble with distinct takes on the men surrounding the whirlwind of ideas McLuhan stood at the centre of - inserting a humorous  at times standup presence, to a serious drama about popular wisdom, wiles, and wilfulness.

The central position McLuhan continues to hold within communications history is, in a brief scene, lightly challenged by the idea that many minds contributed, while McLuhan’s personality, and his way with written words, coupled with the people who moved and marketed him toward celebrity status, were as integral to the McLuhan phenomenon as the man himself.
Watching a play addressing the monumental impact McLuhan and his cohorts - colleagues - prophets (what have you) have had on public/popular consciousness drives home many points about where current ‘civilization’ is headed. 

If, in fact, the medium is the message, then the Tarragon production, with a moveable set, almost vaudevillian-like appearances behind faux television sets, and tremendous lighting and video design (Rebecca Picherack, lighting - Carla Richie, video designer) brings forward the message in a fully integrated, epic way. The creative team also reveals the effects - onstage - of an industrialized, tech-frenzied century whose still developing/snowballing technologies remain with us as rampant growth both threatens and enhances ‘modern’ life. As the imprint grows the environmental implications increase.
It may be difficult to take a positive message from the dramaturgical proceedings, but overall, the play is a haunting, hilarious, lightly hopeful message about popular fame, the social media, mortality, and marketing in an age and a city where I look out my window, a short stroll from Dundas Square, and all I can see, in Toronto's mini Times Square, are colossal, entertaining and informational examples of McLuhan’s haunting prophesy. A prophesy that, given the milieu he worked within for most of his life (University of Toronto - 1950 to late seventies), may not have been a very prophetic horizon after all - rather, a close look at what he was, by degree, already surrounded and consumed by in a growing urban ‘village’ existing alongside similar global enterprise.



RUNNING AT TARRAGON THEATRE UNTIL DECEMBER 16TH


CAST AND CREW

written by Jason Sherman
directed by Richard Rose
assistant director Taryn Jorgenson
costume designer Charlotte Dean
set & props designer Camellia Koo
video designer Carla Ritchie
sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne
lighting designer Rebecca Picherack
stage manager Kate Sandeson
apprentice stage manager Jaimee Hall



OBAABERIMA AT BUDDIES IN BAD TIMES THEATRE

OBAABERIMA
“Theatrical magic on stage”
— Positive Lite


Do not miss seeing this powerful performance in its final five days at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. Tawiah Ben M'Carthy's incredible solo skill for bringing a variety of engrossing characters to the stage are enhanced by a creative team, under the direction of Evalyn Parry, as the entire crew brings forward a dazzling array of confinement and liberation (set & costumes by Camellia Koo) through the use of storytelling,  lighting, sound and thoroughly integrated and compelling  live music (Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison).



Given the current and controversial issues being addressed at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre regarding, history, inclusion, and sex positive shows that reveal interactive stories occurring between various communities, Obaaberima is an incredibly fitting production as it takes on the intricacies of multiple identities through the social and cultural gaze of sex, gender and race. In an array of gorgeous storytelling, layered vocals (vocal coach Ausar Stewart), and skilfully and beautifully performed dance movement the current production, after an acclaimed cross-country tour, adds further life to M'Carthy's complex journey through diverse cultural experience. 




running at buddies in bad times theatre until december 9th


Friday, November 23, 2018


WE KEEP COMING BACK



DON'T MISS THE FINAL WEEKEND 
OF THIS BEAUTIFUL AND MOVING PERFORMANCE!!!

MICHAEL RUBENFELD AND MARY BERCHARD
Playing themselves, Mary Berchard, Katka Reszka, and Michael Rubenfeld, within a transformative structure that changes each night, display the kind of flawless and intense professionalism and risk taking that one might expect from the form of non-scripted performance that Self-conscious Productions has become internationally acclaimed for. 

There are moments of great laughter and self-examination as Rubenfeld, his mother Mary Berchard, and their collaborator/translator Katka Reszka confront each other with difficult questions, responses, and potentially explosive moments of iconic emotional expression - the mother/son relationship that is the cornerstone of this production - a relationship that finds epic elements in a series of scenes that confront issues rooted in a recognition of the atrocities that took place in Poland during the Holocaust. 

Somehow the performers find great humour alongside empowering pathos as they make their respective journeys, together and apart, through memories and actual sites of trauma. And there is a pivotal candy wrapper, and the potential for sharing a cup of tea, that both divides and conquers, by degree, the central connection between a mother, her son, a friend, and their respective approaches to past trauma, homeland, and Jewish identity. The final product is an incredibly moving journey - at times uncomfortable, at times comic, at times heartbreaking.
The technical expertise, through the use of projections and onstage cameras, adds to the journey in a varied and subtly spectacular manner (Trevor Schwellnuss - Scenography and Technical Director). Coupled with Sarah Garton Stanley's precise direction that has Berchard, Reszka, and Rubenfeld occupying varied spaces that frequently integrate with the scenography, the overall production is a beautifully rendered examination of how memory and physical journeys can give birth to significant moments/lifetimes of self-recognition that companies like Self-conscious productions can share, to profound effect, with international audiences.
And there is the candy wrapper, a wonderfully inventive & interactive narrative device that reveals the differences between varied imaginations and personal approaches regarding trauma and investigation. 

Rubenfeld's persona acknowledges the intimacy of a candy shop moment that his collaborator fervently resists, and then it all comes together as the audience has been effectively drawn in by a simple gesture, and a simple story, that reaches out to many points of empathy and ongoing collaboration with theatre makers and spectators grappling with the ongoing effects of anti-semitism throughout history - effects that must be addressed and re-addressed by artists and audiences as often as possible.

RUNNING AT FACTORY THEATRE 
UNTIL NOVEMBER 25TH

 left to right - Michael Rubenfeld, Mary Berchard, Kafka Reszke



Monday, October 29, 2018

THEATRE CENTRE - SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER

PHOTOS BY KYLE PURCELL

The current production of Secret Life of a Mother is a tour de force of exquisitely imagined solo performance, with superb meta-theatrical interventions by the writer director and co-creators throughout. The simple performative act of including the script on-stage, at times reading directly from it as a brief acknowledgement of the process, yet often abandoning its lettered properties and using it as a tissue-like prop submerged in onstage aquariums acting as metaphors to that first journey from the womb to the outside world, as well as as the frequently isolating states women can find themselves trapped within - ultimately reminding spectators that theatre and performance are a kind of birth, never far from their creator, always changing, and always reminding one how difficult and joyous that originary birth, and the life that follows, can be - for women in particular as they are too often left with the bulk of the 'labor' - before during and after.
Maev Beaty as Maev & Hannah

With the support of Maev Beaty, Anne-Marie Kerr, and Marinda de Beer, Hannah Moscovitch has crafted a very different kind of drama from her previous work. The autobiographical nature is deftly and cleverly split between her and her close friend, Maev Beaty. Moving between the split personas of both Moscovitch and Beaty, Beaty delivers a beautifully layered monologue about the intense joy and fear of bringing a child into the world, and being an artist at the same time. At one point Beaty is called, by Moscovitch, an “Art Monster” who must never feel ashamed that their art might be taking away from their maternal responsibilities. From the vantage point of an audience member and/or ‘fellow’ artist, the responsibilities both artist/mothers take on over the course of this incredible 70 minute performance is a devastatingy beautiful exercise in self examination, poignancy, bitter tears, joy, and comic laughter provoked by some of life’s simultaneously complex /simplest - yet hard won - pleasures.
Beaty is at her usual best as she immediately yet generously lays claim to a script that has been carefully and expertly crafted onstage by Director Anne-Marie Kerr. The use of the two fish tanks - one large one small - creates imaginative and highly effective playing spaces that also stand in as unassuming screens for gorgeous projections of the actual corporeal elements of having a baby. At one point a laptop that Beaty carries around the stage for audience members to see, reveals the extreme physical results of particular moments described in an, at times casual and conversational - at times emotionally fraught and intent upon letting the audience know just how intense childbirth and the ensuing life one holds in the very palm of their hands can be.
A sequence that chronicles an international flight, and all that entails for a pregnant woman, and then in another sequence, a woman with her very young child who also takes on immense theatre, residency, and television projects during these times, is a strong material feminist form of enlightenment for those who just don’t seem to know how big a job motherhood is. 
Beaty’s own story of being at Stratford when her child was very young, doing three shows and learning lines while she had to care for her baby, is not simply a well written tale of descriptive prose, it is also an example of how she always manages to deliver, onstage, a full fledged example of her talent as one of Canada’s leading performers when it comes to creating incredibly nuanced and layered characters. 

Not to give an unnecessary spoiler for those who may not know, but just a hint of a secondary yet powerful solo performance happening in the closing sequence of The Secret Life of a Mother that is both vulnerable, powerful and fully appreciative of the ways in which a selection of women artists have come together to create this incredible performance piece. And by doing so, reminding us of how the tremendous work of artists often coincides with the tremendous work of committed parents attempting to reconcile all of  their life choices through rigorous self-examination and exquisite representation.

SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER

RUNS AT THE THEATRE CENTRE 
UNTIL NOVEMBER 11TH