Tuesday, March 26, 2019


William Hutt
 Soldier Actor   
by Keith Garebian 





William Hutt Soldier Actor Guernica Editions, 2017

by Keith Garebian


Biographer, poet, and theatre scholar Keith Garebian’s 492 page biography of William Hutt may seem daunting at first glance, but very quickly one is drawn into an almost novel-like epic adventure that manages to take the life of a single iconic Canadian actor and mould it into a seamless narrative that never fails to enlighten, amuse, and instil admiration for one of the most compelling performing arts careers of the 20th century. And if that’s not enough, other men and women acclaimed in both film and theatre cross the boards of Garebian’s mammoth achievement, making his contribution both personal and inclusive as it adds to the rich, often unsung history of Canada’s theatrical history, and the ways in which it has frequently crossed paths with international glory.

Christopher Plummer, Martha Henry, Brian Bedford, Maggie Smith, Noel Coward, Sybil Thorndike, and William Shatner lounge among the ranks of star powered creatures whose fame brushed lightly - a times even brashly - against Hutt’s diverse and lavish career. During a meeting regarding Hutt’s part in Waiting In The Wings (Broadway, 1960) Noel Coward told him that“you don’t have to sing much, darling…Maybe one little patter song. But there will be several good scenes for you.” (125, Garebian). A short paragraph later the anecdote is elaborated upon when Hutt’s own words evoke a detailed sense of what it was like to be directed by a tactful master - 

“It’s Noel’s gift to make you feel as if what you’re doing is right and important. In making a correction, he will say, ‘Nothing to worry about, dear, but could you possibly do it a bit differently.’”Now that’s tact.” 

This brief yet concise segment also manages to include the fact that Hutt discovered, in an early rehearsal, that one of his two scenes had been changed to a musical number. Ever the tactful manipulator, Coward’s satiric sense, both onstage and off, according to Hutt, was always “impeccable.”

The book is filled with similar personal anecdotes that convey a sense of a detailed series of relationships and chronologies that make up a rich and varied life. Garebian also manages that delicate task of constructing a sense of Hutt’s sexual and gender identities without the explicit nature some readers might crave. His companions/lovers, what have you, subtly grace the pages with an elegant sense of the writer’s respect for privacy, yet titillate simultaneously through the use of photographs, a sense of intermittent conflict, up close and faintly personal anecdotes, and a heartfelt writing style that shows the author’s respect for his subject. Effeminacy in particular becomes something, onstage and off, that Garebian develops in a simultaneously complex yet subtly engaging manner:

Hutt’s next role followed in 1963 when he accepted an invitation to play Pandarus in ringlets and heavy jewels in Troilus and Cressida. Hutt sensed all through rehearsals that Michael Langham wanted him to think like a woman for the part of the go-between between the two title lovers. At first he did not take to Langham’s direction, feeling “not quite prepared to reveal to the theatre-going public that there was a strong streak of femininity” in him. Langham recognized the stumbling block and was determined to remove it. The release came after an ivory flywhisk was put in Hutt’s hand, because the prop suddenly became a focus for gesture and, behind this, for mental character. Hutt described how the process developed: “I began to think like a woman, and the final note was literally just before I went on the opening night. I suddenly took a deep breath and said, ‘My God, I’ve got tits!’ I went out there thinking I had a huge pair of tits, and all the things Michael had been telling me fell into place. He wanted effeminacy but not necessarily homosexuality. If the audience said, ‘Oh, he’s a wonderful old “queer,”’ then that was a decision they should make. In other words, he didn’t say, ‘I want you to play this like some mad “queer” from Third Avenue. No. He realized that it was too tight an image, too pedestrian and far too easy.” 
Hutt’s mixed persona, in a familial role moulded by birth, society and ‘nature’ appears to be a dance between traditional, complex notions of gender and the ways in which he may have chosen to portray these traits in his personal life, his family life, and the many roles he took onto the stage. As the son of a religious man and a doting mother, with the added ingredient of an at times conflicted relationship with his brother, readers may glean engaging sex/gender details and cultural innuendoes throughout Garebian’s research and anecdotal analysis. The actor/soldier’s appearance in WW2 is deftly handled and reveals a fine balance between time spent both fighting and ‘acting’ for his country. There is an especially fascinating correlation between Hutt’s bravery during a dangerous episode in Italy, and the ways in which he was able to bring extreme bravery, strength and character to the roles he would encounter when he returned to Canada and began to pursue an acting career. A colleague once observed the soldier actor mentality that led Hutt through his many roles in life and gave him a special cadence, intuition, and rhythm that frequently worked well onstage, opting for a knowing patience rather than a frustrated  and cumbersome pose:

“There was never frustration. If he wasn’t sure of something, he would ask a question, but there was never a whole lot of conversation about something. You could see that he had done a lot of thinking, and if he had a question, he would hash it out in rehearsal. If he wasn’t comfortable with a moment, he didn’t need to sit and chat about it. He really was a man of action. He was a soldier that way. I remember the very opening when he came in from the heath in the play. He’d come to this man’s sumptuous house. He’d walk in but he didn’t want to walk across the rug for fear he would leave marks on it, so he did this very simple walk around the contours of the rug, and it was hilarious. He was playful, and yet he was masterful at knowing what would work and what wouldn’t with an audience. It just seemed to be organic—a second sense.” Elaborating on Hutt’s rehearsal method, Hughes noted that he was very precise in what he did but would never use his full power either in rehearsals or in previews. “Unlike some actors who come out of the chute and just blow it out, he was the other way. You could see him clocking when the audience responded. He was using the previews to figure out where he was going, and each night, he added another 15%, as he became more and more assured of where he was going, how he was going to use his audience, and how he was going to engage with the actors on stage with this new dance partner—the audience. So, by the opening, he was cooking, he was just flying and right where he needed to be. Bill was never more or any less than he needed to be. It was a great lesson.” 
Garebian however is not all smiles  and acclaim in his in depth reading go Hutt’s varied career.. Late in the book, at the beginning of his epilogue, he candidly admits to being the discerning critic who does not allow his status as a great admirer of Hutt’s to become an entirely one-sided tome of fandom and unwarranted praise.

When I approached him in 1984 to write his biography, I was honest about my own reservations. I had certainly admired him in most of his roles, but I did not like his Claudius for John Neville or his first attempt at the King of France in All’s Well That Ends Well, and I had criticisms of his Vanya for Robin Phillips and his first Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. When inspiration or taste or daring failed him, he was grossly hammy or merely dull. I had heard of his ego, and I decided to test his limits by telling him at the outset that I considered Sir Laurence Olivier to be the greatest actor I had ever seen and the only theatre idol, apart from Shakespeare, that I revered. He eyed me coldly at first, probably amazed at my impertinent audacity. I could have become a live sacrifice at 4 Waterloo North, but he kept his temper well under control. I believe he even began to respect me a little for my honesty and nerve, though he must have winced privately at my calculated tactlessness. It was essential, however, to serve him advance notice that I would not be writing hagiography. And he surprised me, in turn, by his outward placidity.
Ultimately the book becomes a lightly sparring relationship between biographer and subject, whereby the individuals collaborate, over a span of many years, on detailed encounters that achieve a fine and delicate balance between biography, personal narrative, and astute critique:
[At the] Chalmers Awards at the St. Lawrence Centre on January 30, 1989, at which he was to receive the Toronto Drama Bench Award…Looking elegant and relaxed, Hutt made a witty acceptance speech, thanking Sylvia Shawn for giving him his first professional job, Amelia Hall for her generosity, Tony Guthrie for his love, Langham for his style, Gascon for his energy and warmth, John Hirsch for his deficit, and Robin Phillips, above all, for setting a new direction for his career. He also thanked the critical fraternity for having tried to keep him humble over all these years, “which according to the recent book by Keith Garebian is no easy task.”
Garebian has written about Hutt’s life before and comes back to the front, in his latest venture, with an immense and valuable contribution to Canadian theatre history, as well as an homage to a kind of Canadian career that we can all learn patience, admiration, and respect from as we continue to muddle through the cumbersome performance of identity that being Canadian, both onstage and off, entails. 
The final pages, nearing Hutt’s death in 2007, incorporate remarkably beautiful and moving portraits of an icon in one of his final courageous and generous performances.
Journalist Sandra Martin of the Globe and Mail visited him on a clear, sunny day in early June, ostensibly to fact check things about his life story, and Hutt, attached to a portable oxygen machine, was unable to rise from his wing chair beside a window to receive her. His face a waxy pallor and dressed in “a loose, brown-patterned shirt over casual trousers, and with terribly swollen ankles showing above a pair of moccasins,” he began the interview by asking: “Have you ever interviewed anyone who’s actually dying?” (Martin June 28, 2007) The question took her by surprise, as did his subsequent conversation of almost ninety minutes, during which, though racked by coughs, he talked frankly about his parents, the war, and his introduction to death before he had a chance to know much about life. He indicated three major stages in his life: adolescence, “when things happen to your body and your mind”; your twenties, when “your parents become your friends rather than authority figures”; and death, the stage he was entering with questions of what it would be like. He was modest about his own capacities as an actor: “I will leave the word ‘great’ to history, but I do know that in some kind of way, my career as an actor has paralleled the growth of theatre in this country.” He had always been pragmatic, and he explained that his decision to stay home rather than to chase fame and fortune in London and New York came from an “an arrogant pride” in Canada. “I had no intention of leaving this country until I was invited. I wasn’t going to beg.” He acknowledged the generous friendship and support of Richard Monette: “He has prolonged my life and my career.” 
In William Hutt Soldier Actor Keith Garebian has further prolonged the career of a man  and a nationality through exhaustive research, personal admiration, astute critique, and a commitment to chronicling detailed, entertaining, and engaging accounts of Canadian theatre history and all of it’s complex creatures.


David Bateman, Toronto, 2018





Saturday, March 16, 2019

NO WOMAN'S LAND


NO 
WOMAN’S LAND


In No Woman's Land I do not attempt to offer solutions that tackle complex, historically entrenched systems of oppression; instead, my desire is to help reveal the nuances in often concealed experiences, and evoke greater discourse among those who are in the position to influence change. All the stories in this work are real.

ROSHANAK JABERI (director and choreographer)


With one more show left, (this evening at 8pm - March 16 - Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Queen's Quay) Roshanak Jaberi has provided three spectacular evenings of distinct and impeccable dance theatre that integrates superb examples of performance art, movement, dance, scenography and visual design. Jerome Delapierre's immersive projections blanket the performing space and the performers in profoundly moving textures and images that simultaneously shroud and punctuate the issues being addressed.The nuance, the subtlety, and the explosive moments of great hardship couple with the overall performance in thrilling and engaging ways.

Roshanak's program note provides a unique and concise perspective on the ways in which art can frequently move beyond resolution based politics regarding specific global trauma, yet not leave possible answers/strategies behind. Layers of aesthetic purpose and urgency reveal a truly beautiful, disturbing, and hauntingly empowering visual landscape that intricately evokes a sense of brutally oppressive circumstances. Jaberi's overall aim underlines dire circumstances visually and textually being struggled with, and commented upon by artists, victims, and spectators who may feel the need to explore ways in which broad cultural/aesthetic forums can lend crucial alliance and support;

Several years ago, my art and politics entered into a union, an organic relationship based on my own need for purpose and desire to understand the world we live in. This led to a tension, causing the two sides to engage in constant negotiation and compromise in an an attempt to satisfy their own expression. Somewhere along the line, I learned to embrace this tension and use it as a catalyst to challenge myself artistically while continuing to speak to the issues that matter to me. The plight of refugees is an issue I feel deeply passionate about...In No Woman's Land I do not attempt to offer solutions that tackle complex, historically entrenched systems of oppression; instead, my desire is to help reveal the nuances in often concealed experiences, and evoke greater discourse among those who are in the position to influence change. All the stories in this work are real.


Roshanak Jaberi - excerpt from program CHOREOGRAPHER'S NOTE

The performers illustrate immense skill, physical agility, and aesthetically gorgeous focus as they grapple with a central stage prop that opens the show with a sense of both cage and boat - the ultimate signifiers in the plight of many refugees who cross geographic and human obstacles that play complex roles in an ongoing struggle to survive. In one sequence, as text covers the stage and the bodies, one is moved to a sense of grief and wonder regarding the ways in which individuals, women in particular, are tossed about in a sea of global turmoil. Peter Benedetti's set and Cheryl Lalonde's costumes stand firm both inside and outside of these beautifully rendered responsive projections, integrating with each other and the overall environment with a kind of bold, graceful, elegant and empowering aesthetic power.

There are too many descriptive words and phrases available to the viewer to describe this event adequately. The sixty minute show creates an amazing landscape, with real stories being told by marginalized women who have lived through devastating circumstances being brought forward with incredibly strong verbal and visual effect by Roshanak Jaberi's Jaberi Dance Theatre.

Ultimately, No Woman's Land displays Roshanak's  political concerns and her artistic vision in a way that reveals, in a heart wrenching series of diverse performance modes "the incredible capacity for human resilience in the face of adversity."

I wanted to create a work that would celebrate the courage and resistance of the women at the heart of these stories, while provoking greater empathy and understanding about the issue. These women have survived great adversity, yet many come out stronger and determined to live a life worth living. As privileged witnesses we need to shift the focus of our discomfort to hearing their difficult stories and appreciating their courage to share them. I feel that it is important for us to challenge our ideas of viewership - ideas that are largely shaped by Eurocentric values - and open ourselves up to different ways of viewing and interpreting art that occurs in other parts of the world. I believe that racialized people, particularly those coming from war and conflict regions, need not downplay their experiences to make it more palatable for the dominant culture to view. 
Roshanak Jaberi
RUNNING AT 
HARBOURFRONT CENTRE THEATRE UNTIL MARCH 16TH

Thursday, March 14, 2019

NO WOMAN'S LAND


DanceWorks presents Jaberi Dance Theatre 
with Toronto premiere of No Woman’s Land
- based on real stories of women in refugee camps -

TORONTO (February 5, 2019): Toronto’s Jaberi Dance Theatre (JDT) proudly makes its DanceWorks Mainstage debut with the Toronto premiere of No Woman’s Land, an evocative new work based on real stories of women in refugee camps. Choreographed and directed by JDT Artistic Director Roshanak Jaberi, and created with a powerhouse artistic team and an ensemble of six performers, this interdisciplinary and dynamic dance theatre work runs for 3 nights only - Thursday, March 14 through Saturday March 16 – at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, direct from its Public Energy world premiere at Peterborough's historic Market Hall Performing Arts Centre (March 9-10). 

No Woman’s Land integrates responsive video design, original and verbatim text, live singing as well as original composition and sound design – taking audiences on a journey that reveals the plight and resistance of refugee women. The project has been developed in collaboration with the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society (IRIS) and is based on research conducted by Doris Rajan (IRIS) and Dr. Shahrzad Mojab (University of Toronto). All of the themes and stories in this work are based on true accounts, derived from interviews conducted with Syrian, Tamil and Somali refugees, among others.

The world is experiencing the biggest mass displacement of people since WWII; No Woman’s Land is a timely and urgent work that is viscerally impacted by the realities of refugees. Jaberi notes, “I wanted to create a work that highlights the brave women at the heart of these stories, which not only triggered my own memories of displacement and war, but reminded me of the incredible capacity for human resilience in the face of adversity.” 

Undergoing two years of passionate research and dancemaking, this visual and sonic feast is created with and performed by Victoria Mata, Irma Villafuerte, Nickeshia Garrick, Drew Berry, Denise Solleza and Ahmed Moneka. The artistic team includes choreographic mentor and artistic advisor Karen Kaeja, dramaturge Soheil Parsa, sound designer and composer Thomas Ryder Payne, scenographer and visual designer Jérôme Delapierre, costume designer Cheryl Lalonde, among many other talented artists.

***
Jaberi Dance Theatre is a contemporary and inter-disciplinary performing arts company based in Toronto. Founded in 2017 by Iranian-Canadian Roshanak Jaberi, the company is committed to exploring socially and politically relevant content that highlights the stories and lived experiences of racialized women, while providing a platform for intercultural collaboration and exchange. JDT aspires to create thought-provoking and innovative performances to engage, inspire and mobilize audiences towards social change. https://www.jaberidt.com/

DanceWorks began as a collective of independent dance artists in 1977 and has grown to become Toronto's leading presenter of independent dance. DanceWorks offers seasons of eclectic, exhilarating choreography programmed to intrigue, challenge and enthrall. DanceWorks adds to the theatrical experience with Carol's Dance Notes and post-performance conversations with artists. http://www.danceworks.ca



DanceWorks presents the Toronto premiere of 
Jaberi Dance Theatre’s No Woman’s Land
- based on real stories of women in refugee camps -
Directed and choreographed by Roshanak JaberiThursday, March 14-Saturday March 16 at 8pmHarbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto
For tickets call 416-973-4000 or purchase online at http://danceworks.ca

Dynamic Ticket Pricing - the earlier purchased, the more saved:
Prior to the week of the show - $36; During the week of the show - $40; Day of Show - $42
Discounts: Seniors - $28, Arts Industry - 20% discount, Students - $15 and Groups of 10+ - $23
Follow DanceWorks on twitter @DanceWorksTO and friend on Facebook @DanceWorksTO
Follow Jaberi Dance Theatre on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @jaberidt
Info: www.danceworks.ca/news/ 


news stories for No Woman's Land;


Shannon Litzenberger's WORLD AFTER DARK




from Harborfront events website;

World Premiere!

Night is electric, immersive, rejuvenating, and disarming. It demands to be met by the intuitive, sentient body. Its mysteries offer respite from the drama of the day. The nights of our generation are aglow with artificial light. What trace of darkness is left on you?

Inspired by Christopher Dewdney’s award-winning book Acquainted with the NightWorld After Dark explores our relationship with the physical and metaphorical night. From the three stages of nightfall to the science of the cosmos; from the birth of nightlife to the empire of dreams; from the biology of nocturnal creatures to the mythology of the night sky, Dewdney’s compelling poetic reveries and scientific explanations journey us on an epic voyage through the mysteries of night.

With an outstanding, multi-disciplinary creative team and ensemble of performers, World After Dark invites us to reclaim the night within us – a metaphor for the sensual, the embodied and the feminine.
Choreographed and Directed by Shannon Litzenberger

WORLD AFTER DARK ON VIMEO: https://vimeo.com/292611469


FROM CHRISTOPHER DEWDNEY'S 'ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT'

1

FIRST NIGHT

"I have been acquainted with the night I have walked out in rain-and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light."
Robert Frost

ILove NIGHT. SOME of my earliest memories are of magical  summer evenings, the excitement I felt night's arrival, its dark splendor. Later, when I was eleven, there were hot summer nights, especially if the moon was bright, when I felt irresistibly drawn outside. I'd wait until my parents were asleep and then sneak out of the house, avoiding the creaky parts of the wooded stairs and the oak floors in the warm night air. A bolt of pure electric joy would rush through me as i stepped into the bright stillness of the moonlit year." 

Shannon Litzenberger's World After Dark, inspired by the words of Christopher Dewdney, is an eclectic blend of abstract modern dance and the Broadway gestural tones of a Bob Fosse'esque 'fabulous extension'  tone that dazzles with emphatic direct movement and sharp characterization. The semi-cabaret like moments are enhanced by a spectacular black sequinned costume worn by a central dance 'character.' 

Character is the primary aesthetic signifier in the overall performance from the get go as Linea Swann enters, enwrapped in aforementioned luscious Liza-like garb (costumes by Alexandra Lord) with enhancing shafts of light, setting the tone for a diverse program of evocative solo and ensemble work. Swann takes on a host-like quality and joins the 'cast' as actor as well as dancer. At times she approaches the audience with an assessing eye that both attracts and challenges the parameters of audience subjectivity.


The spoken aspects of the evening are superbly performed with standout moments from Swann and Louis Faberge Cote. Nikolaus Markakis has elegant and robustly provocative man-bun moments, letting his hair down and taking centre stage for palpable demonstrations of gently sensual masculinity, while Emily Law, Syreeta Hector and Kathia Witttenborn add their own distinct brands of ensemble and solo character to the overall piece. Irene Pauzer and Dan Wild provide varied and engaging narration throughout the performance.


There are soft'ish kick line/in sync moments interspersed with nuanced, less glitzy enterprise that effectively varies the overall evening. In the end, this delightful panoply of blended, seamless vignettes beautifully captures Dewdney's efforts to explore night time in all its complex moods and moments - from  the "magical summer evenings" to "the dark splendor" that Dewdney speaks so eloquently of. Shannon Litzeberger has taken all of this, and with the support of her collaborative ensemble and production team, including dance dramaturgy (Gerald Trentham) and Creative Advisors (Trentham and Marie-Josee Chartier), crafted a beautiful, invigorating, and concise tribute to both Dewdney and the many variations of the night. Absorbing projections and interactive video designs by by Elysha Poirier frame the action and provide a stand alone aesthetic aspect that elaborately adds a wonderful layer of  nocturnally induced rapture to this multi-facted event.  


This is choreography and dance theatre that concisely responds to language as it delivers Dewdney's "pure electric joy"as well as his love for "the bright stillness of the moonlit yard" that occur and re-occur throughout World After Dark, giving onlookers literary, choreographic, and performance elements to enjoy and marvel at.


WORLD AFTER DARK 

RAN AT HARBOURFRONT CENTRE THEATRE

FROM MARCH 6-9, 2019

Friday, March 1, 2019

BEARS




Bears is a majestic kind of contemporary odyssey that moves through a varied landscape in order to reveal the complex collision between humans and all that is nature - in particular, grizzly bears. Sheldon Elter as Floyd leads the pack as he delivers an emotionally varied monologue throughout, interwoven with sporadic advice-cum-support from Tracey Neopinak as Mama, a somewhat underwritten role that, although beautifully portrayed, could be strengthened with a bit more dialogue and participation within the action at hand. 
Elter's performance is brilliantly layered as he moves in and out of anguish and delight toward a powerful plea-like moment that ends the play. With the aid of an amazing chorus of eight women dancing/singing through an array of multiplicitous creatures/animals, the journey becomes a form of cathartic performance theatre. Mackenzie brings us, in powerful  often comical terms, the tragic plight of nature as it collides with unnatural 'man' made catastrophe to the forefront. 

The overall scenography, made powerful by a backdrop/environmental design by T. Erin Gruber, with Jackson Pollock like projections in varied hue, gives the action a tremendous power as the central character dances and narrates a contemporary story of pipelines, animals, corporate politics, and spiritual rejuvenation.
The setting comes alive through the projected textures, giving the playing space great kinetic versatility. Bears is a beautiful, haunting, at times frolicking romp through the contemporary chaos of land ravaged by dangerous industrial activity. 

In her opening remarks Nina Lee Aquino, artistic director of Factory Theatre, spoke of the ways in which Mackenzie's play speaks of disaster and impending doom, but also offers hope for a future where physical and narrative journeys can be made that will begin to change crucial environmental factors, saving Earth and its accompanying 'nature' from looming destruction...

Bears - a kind of contemporary morality tale that plays itself out with great conviction, power, and magical visual effect...








RUNNING AT FACTORY THEATRE 
UNTIL MARCH 17TH

NEW MAGIC VALLEY FUN TOWN - TARRAGON THEATRE

New Magic Valley Fun Town 
Daniel MacIvor

Daniel MacIvor’s new play, currently running at Tarragon Theatre until March 31st, is a hilariously tragic tour de force that represents his writing and performance style as interwoven streams coming together in a powerful and seamless fashion. Near the end the of this 90 minute dramedy, MacIvor, in the lead role as the slightly bumbling Dougie, repeats a line with the kind of performance strength and style that is immediately recognizable to anyone who has followed his career as a formidable solo performer and a fine ensemble actor/writer. There are traces of House and Monster that seep through as his character takes on eloquently manic gestures that punctuate the narrative with a fine intensity. 
left to right - Daniel MacIvor, Stephanie McDonald, Caroline Gillis, Andrew Moodie

Dougie’s initial appearance opens the play with a well-tuned hilarious entrance as ordinary objects become a kind of silent slapstick introduction to the world of the very conflicted main character. He commands the stage with comic finesse that is soon punctuated by the talents of two performers who match his skill for nuanced emotion and physical agility. Stephanie McDonald as Sandy has a wonderful inebriated dancing/flirting scene where her inhibitions and her poetic/academic prowess are a joy to hear and to watch. Caroline Gillis as Cheryl, Sandy’s Mom, rounds out the familial aspect of the cast with great versatility. Her layered performance represents her as both a fun loving counterpart to Dougie’s complex world and a concerned long term comrade who tries to look out for him in the face of very challenging life events.
Andrew Moodie’s appearance as Allen, a little later in the play, introduces the essential element that moves the comedy toward its climax - a climax that possesses very moving scenes between Dougie and his longtime, long-absent friend. There is a tenderness and concern in their rapport that reveals the strength of the writing and the performing encased within a tightly woven plot that comes full circle to a touching and powerful ending. 

Dougie’s character contains a mixture of grace and pathos that borders on the 'sad old queer' stereotype. But the layered excellence of the performances, and the ways in which Andrew Moodie offsets this tone with a very strong and subtly relaxed presence, culminating in an impassioned plea, alleviates this element by degree. One costume aspect in particular is both poignant and hilarious as it possesses some of the aforementioned stereotypical elderly queer male (or straight man) personality traits. For the sake of comedy this element is both bewildering and effective, and finds wonderful positive closure in a final scene between Allen and Dougie. 
By the end of this fast paced, emotionally riveting play, we find scattered clues to the nature of some small town lives and mentalities that can partially free people from their most difficult challenges, and at other times, lock them endlessly within a troubled past. 

MacIvor’s work has always flirted with queerness in a skilled and effective manner in much the same way that both urban and rural environments construct places for people to be both liberated and/or restrained and hidden within. New Magic Valley Fun Town is no exception to this penchant for engrossing deceptive drama-cum-comedy. The pivotal meeting the play hinges upon is new, there is performance magic, and there is the looming presence of a frequently sorrowful valley, with moments of fun, skirting a kind of rarified town on the edge of the layered emotional world that the script inhabits - a world that takes all of the words in the playwright's title and turns them inside out.

New Magic Valley Fun Town - an engrossing new play about very topical issues that must be seen and never over described in a review. Like the title - and this review - the script is an unfolding parade of adjectives and nouns that come together as a deceptive chain of signifiers that both shroud and reveal distant memories. Memories hidden in a very conflicted past - both happy and sad. A past that might be revealed in order to begin to take part in an attempt to avoid further mayhem…

      New Magic Valley 
Fun Town RUNS AS TARRAGON THEATRE UNTIL  MAR 31             

Death and the Maiden - Red Sandcastle Theatre

GUEST REVIEW BY SHANNON MAGUIRE

Red Sandcastle Theatre’s production of Ariel Dorfman’s three-hander political thriller about the aftermath of dictatorship, Death and the Maiden, playing from February 27-March 3 at 922 Queen Street East is worth the trek. The intimacy of the space lends an intensity to the dramatic action, which involves the machinations of torture, the gendering of power, and the limits of truth-telling in the context of a country transitioning from dictatorship to democracy in which all citizens are traumatized and in which democracy might just be a mask upon continuing systems of domination. 
Director Deborah Ann Frankel (who also designed the set and lighting) emphasises, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly, the nuances of gender and the limits of power in her blocking and staging in what I consider an effective interpretation. The minimalism of the set and lighting works well for the impoverishment and devastation that any country pulling itself out of dictatorship faces. Of the numerous questions that Frankel lists in her Director’s Notes, the most poignant, and the one most thoroughly investigated in this production is: “How can those who were tortured coexist in the same land?” 

Amber Mackereth gives a raw and sometimes hilariously wry performance as Paulina Lorca, a woman approaching middle age who was part of a radical student-run press during the dictatorship and who survived torture and refused to give up the name of her partner (and now husband). In Mackereth’s hands, Pauline is a brassy survivor who managed maintain a passion for life and who takes decisive action and refuses to bend to the wishes of either her husband or her apparent torturer (and now captive), who both paint her as a “crazy bitch”—that old sexist trope. It might seem unusual to laugh in a play on such a serious topic but there are moments that are truly cackle worthy—in the best way— and they all involve Mackereth’s choices. 

Andrew McGillvary gives a tender performance of Gerardo Escobar, the man for whom Pauline endured torture to protect and to whom she is now married. As a lawyer newly appointed to a (flawed) commission on torture set up by the new democratic government, Gerardo is caught between his idealism, his moral inertia, and his love for his wife and McGillvary does a good job of exposing this character’s fatal flaws while charming us. 

Scott McCulloch gives a powerful performance as Doctor Roberto Miranda, the man that Pauline accuses of torturing and raping her. In McCulloch’s hands, a mild-mannered doctor can transform into a salty-mouthed power fiend and back in a split second, a chilling portrait of how power-lust and relations of domination can hide in plain sight. Cliff Saunders’ deft fight choreography was the glue that tied the physical performances to the emotional quagmire of the piece. All in all, it was a thought provoking night of independent theatre. 

























PRESS RELEASE:

First performed on stage in 1991, Ariel Dorfman’s political thriller Death and The Maiden is the dramatic exploration of a country’s uneasy transition from dictatorship to democracy.  

One dark night, the husband’s car breaks down and he is given a lift home by a friendly stranger.  His wife believes she recognizes the stranger‘s voice— is he the torturer who raped her some years before?  She subdues the stranger and puts him forcibly on trial for crimes against the state.    


DEATH AND THE MAIDEN 
AT RED SANDCASTLE THEATRE UNTIL SUNDAY MARCH 2ND

The play asks hard questions about compatriots living in a restored democracy: How can those who tortured and those who were tortured co-exist in the same land?  What of justice and equality in a military dictatorship?  How do we forget the past regime without risking its recreation in the future? Is it legitimate to sacrifice truth to ensure peace?   

The play also asks a universal question about humanity: How do we reach the truth when lying has become a habit?  

Death and The Maiden is a pertinent and important piece today. How may we as Canadians discourage military sanctioned violence and torture abroad if we do not recognize torture in our  own society? How many women, children and men have been tortured, yet our state accuses their perpetrators only of abuse?  

Death and The Maiden warns us of what happens when democracy fails and torture becomes a political tool. 


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