Saturday, November 19, 2011



“Canada is state-of-the-art colonialism — perfect,

immaculate, pure. Double think is a seminal characteristic of Canadian citizenship. Blink your eyes and you're a nation, blink your eyes

and you're a colony, blink your eyes...

Michael Hollingsworth

The current production of VideoCabaret’s The Life and Times of Mackenize King is a glorious and irreverent look at a period in Canadian History, like so much global history, ripe with corruption, controversy, and the tragicomic misadventures of politicians struggling with and prancing through a particularly sinister period dominating the first half of the twentieth century and setting the world stage for utter chaos that continues to unfold on a daily basis. The presence of Hitler is woven into this installment of Hollingsworth’s 15 play cycle in a seamless narrative fashion, highlighting the ways in which various national forces grappled with the dictator’s heinous politics, and their own, in ways that reveal our own nation’s forays into very tyrannical regimes.

The ensemble cast is impeccable, and the brilliance of the overall design one has come to expect from the VideoCabaret team, housed in the small black box of the Cameron House back room, is in fine form. Astrid Janson’s costumes utilize a kind of fabulous pastiche effect that delineates the bleak tones of war alongside the lush, at times ludicrous emotional and material shades of the upper classes, while a continuous score by Brent Snyder is assembled as a pitch perfect counterpoint to the text as actors deliver operatic/melodramatic performances dependent upon perfect timing and tremendous vocal versatility.

Hollingsworth’s History of the Village of the Small Huts cycle is legendary. The re-mounts of past years, and the current offering at the Cameron, are always welcome additions to any new theatre season. The politics of Hollingsworth’s work continue to age well through the lens of a radical eye for the corruptions and contradictions that history is so often known for. In 2011, what with worldwide mayhem and the right to speak out in the form of occupations across the continent being threatened, not to mention a mayor who scrambles to shut everything down at the drop of hat, it is not very difficult to see how Hollingsworth’s plays might have sparked controversy early in his career, and how the work could still ignite fervent debate among conservative contemporary circles.

Despite the fact that these perfect theatrical gems, in the form of scathing history plays, frequently display qualities that could, with the funding of a very wealthy producer/benefactor, lend themselves to a fabulous repertory season that expands the impeccable black box quality into an expansive epic of phantasmagoric national proportions, it is comforting to know that the work has endured and can still be found within the small, intimate confines of an historic venue in downtown Toronto. But wouldn’t it be grand, and brilliantly unnerving, to see them all at the Shaw or the Stratford Festival, or as part of the Mirvish Empire, with Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford front row centre, fresh from their latest buddy barbeque and about to have their precious national histories ‘roasted.’

The Life and Times Of Mackenzie King runs at the Camerin House until December 10th, The Cameron House, 408 Queen Street West, 416-703-1725,


Thomson Highways The Rez Sisters tells a very simple, poignant, story in a lively at times comic fashion that presents a timeless tale of camaraderie, struggle, and friendship among a group of women living on a Northern reservation. Replete with a meta-theatrical bingo game, and a trickster who acts as a silent and eloquent figure shadowing and intervening upon the women’s actions, then blossoming into a boisterous emcee at the biggest bingo game in the world, the piece moves seamlessly in and out of diverse emotional tones that evoke both laughter and tears.

Factory Theatre's current production of this 1986 masterpiece, under the direction of Ken Gass, has imposed a Wizard of Oz/Yellow Brick road tone to the narrative as sets by Gillian Gallow evoke a burgeoning yet buried house and a winding path to a glittering urban centre. Gass has utlized the playing space to full advantage as the eight women move about the area with a playful ease, inhabiting their characters with a diverse and expansive grace and a layered charismatic charm.

Jani Lauzon (as Pelajia Patchnose) opens the piece with a sharp, butch infused rooftop scene and is beautifully contrasted by Kyra Harper’s (as Philomena Moosetail) grass roots feminine glamour. Michaela Washburn matches Lauzon’s brash, gendered nuances with a complex and powerful interpretation of the character of Emily Dictionary, while Jean Yoon’s Veronique St. Pierre is a beautiful, spirited study in maternal/community consciousness and compassion. Pamela Sinha brings a lovely version of Marie-Adele Starblanket to the mix, infusing strength and sensual, spiritual longing into a pivotal character, while Djennie Laguerre’s Annie Cook is a boisterous, vivacious, and thoroughly engaging persona. A standout performance by Cara Gee as Zhaboonigan Peterson reveals the performer’s immense skill for rapidfire progression from a lovely intimacy of characterization to the more staccato, reactive moments appropriate to a very complex and challenging role. Billy Merasty moves about the stage with a tremendous presence that instills the action with a kind of magical, dance-like framework that both comforts and conflicts the actions of the characters that Nanabush observes and watches over.

By the end of the play, and the end of the meta-theatrical bingo game, one finds themselves with the very satisfied and fulfilling sense of having been told a very simple story in a very skilled and detailed manner by a master storyteller who has acknowledged his debt to another brilliant dramaturgical spokesperson for the struggles of powerful women in the midst of difficult and restrictive circumstances. As a kind of homage to Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs, The Rez Sisters, in it s current incarnation, is a brilliant rendition of a timeless script.

Running at Factory Theatre until December 11th





. . . to expose heterosexuality as an incessant and panicked imitation of its own naturalized idealization.

The parodic replication and resignification of heterosexual constructs within non-heterosexual frames brings into relief the utterly constructed status of the so-called original.

The more the “act” is expropriated, the more the heterosexual claim to originality is exposed as illusory.

Judith Butler ‘Decking Out: Performing Identities’

What some queer theorists have referred to as a kind of endless, repetitive social comedy, heteronormativity, and all of its delightful, timeworn physical trappings, has often been mistaken as a site for purely heterosexual activity. What with the advent of same sex marriage, and the ongoing, commodifying project - both past and present - of bourgeois lifestyles inhabiting both queer and straight consciousness and activity, a production of James Kudelka’s groundbreaking 1991 15 Heterosxeual Duets was a refreshing reminder that human coupling can be both ridiculous and sublime in its many messy, glorious, and captivatingly carnal incarnations.

Ryerson Theatre School’s recent anniversary presentation of the Coleman/Lemieux Living Dances, an homage to Kudelka’s work, was a moving, comic, and gorgeous testament to diverse physical interaction of the passionate, at times mournful kind. Beginning with the duets, the company brought the legendary choreographer’s intricate and distinct dance vocabulary to life in a remarkable and enthralling fashion. The overall evening attested to his incredibly expansive skill for a variety of dance forms, moving from frequently acrobatic, ballet like sequences in the first piece, to the sharp, athletic, and elegantly gestural interaction of two men in the second piece.

Soudhain, L’Hiver Dernier, was accompanied by the passion filled delicacies of Gavin Bryar’s moody and beautiful score. Andrew Guday and Michael Sean Mayre delivered immaculate performances as they sculpted every move, from head to toe, from the turn of a wrist and the angle of their eyes, subtly gazing upon each other and delicately avoiding eye contact with a smouldering intensity.

In Paradisum, the final offering of the evening, revealed the program’s perfectly conceived order with Kudelka’s series of group tableaus that come to life in evocative costumes by Jane Townsend. Flowing forms delineated male and female bodies as being both similar and disparate through the use of identical skirts and bodices adorning deceptively gendered bodies, at one point revealing the naked torso of a male body as a kind of physical interloper in a sea of gender blending vivacity, camaraderie, and communal grieving. This last offering brought the sexualized content of the evening full circle with yet another gorgeous, reiterative example of the ways in which individuals, groups, duets, and a multiple ménage of choreographic excellence can commingle in familiar ways that act as defamiliarizing agents of beautiful stylized movement.

The Ryerson presentation of these three remarkable pieces of choreography from the 1980’ and 1990’s continues to reveal James Kudelka’s work, and Coleman/Lemieux’s commitment to formative choreographic excellence, as a significant and breathtaking contribution to Canadian and international dance culture.


No comments:

Post a Comment