Wednesday, January 10, 2024

 

Created by Dave Malloy, who was first introduced to Toronto audiences with his whisky-fuelled song cycle Ghost Quartet at Crow’s Theatre, NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is choreographed by Ray Hogg (Dixon Road), the critically acclaimed artistic director of The Musical Stage Company and directed by Chris Abraham (Uncle Vanya).

The celestial cast includes Divine Brown as Hélène, Evan Buliung as Pierre, Rita Dottor (Ensemble), Camille Eanga-Selenge as Sonya, Donna Garner (Ensemble), Hailey Gillis as Natasha, George Krissa as Anatole, Lawrence Libor as Dolokhov, Marcus Nance as Andrey (and Bolkonsky), Heeyun Park 박희윤 as Mary, Andrew Penner as Balaga, Louise Pitre as Marya D., and Brendan Wall (Ensemble).

from;  https://www.crowstheatre.com/whats-on/view-all/natashapierregreatcomet

In 'Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 are,' Divine Brown (left), Camille Eanga-Selenge, George Krissa (at back) and Hailey Gillis. 

Photographed by Dahlia Katz

_____________________________________


In the opening moments of this spectacular show a cacophony of sound hints at a jumble of indecipherable word and mashed up music, and yet only for a moment - a moment long enough to simultaneously alienate (as in Brecht) and impress with the beautiful, complex and skilfully articulated noise about to unfold - yet gradual enough to prepare the audience for an in your face, frequently environmental, and always action-packed musical evening that flies by even at its two and a half hour, one intermission breakneck pace. And there are Russian inspired cocktails available for pre-order at the bar. Vodka galore! The Kahlua however is a delightfully distracting and slightly bewildering addition. Order double vodka and you will be fine.

There were times when I felt like I was trapped in a Meatloaf concert. Having seen two Meatloaf concerts in the 70's and 80's I can't imagine, even at an advanced age,  a better and more pleasing soundscape to be trapped within. A cross between rock opera, cabaret, operetta and techno-type sounds I am not well versed in but singularly impressed by in this particular production, the score is a masterpiece of seamless ballads, deceptively melodic recitative-cum-conversation and internal meditation - infrequent melodic spoken word laced exquisitely by an ensemble without a single weak performance. 

Standout moments come from every cast member - with intense highlights soaring from the lungs of Evan Buliung, Divine Brown, Heeyun Park  박희윤 , Louise Petrie, George Krissa. Marcus Nance, Hailey Gillis, and Lawrence Libor - among others, too numerous to mention.

Buliung (as Pierre) delivers a show stopping, marked by intimacy and booming emotion, in a ballad-like piece near the middle that joins the ranks of impeccably written and performed stand alone songs from the greatest of musicals. A spectacular and diverse hodgepodge of lyric and music, with appropriately anachronistic words and phrases, transports this wildly entertaining musical version of Tolstoy's novel War and Peace into a welcome yet startling testament to the sad endurance of war over centuries of struggle between soldiers and civilians. 


set design by Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan - costume design by Ming Wong - lighting design by Kimberley Purtell - sound design by Ryan Borshuk

George Krissa as Anatole bears his well-toned, audience-pleasing chest in a fleeting and unforgettable scene, giving substance, comedy, and craft to his many winking, satiric sideways glances, poses and musical prowess. And he does this with an incredibly diverse range of both voice and physical bravado/virtuosity. Krissa's performance pairs brilliantly with the equally as alluring and emotionally varied, beautifully sung performance by his romantic conquest Natasha (played by Hailey Gillis) - who, even in her iconic misogyny- based shame, culled from the great themes and novels of Tolstoy's time period, she manages to boldly and powerfully disavow full guilt as something she can never recover from. It was far too thrilling for her to fully forget. The villainy too subtle and intriguing to resist, the romance too fine. The chest too beautiful and bare to bear without barely swooning. . . Sorry, I couldn't resist.


NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 shines brightly through the work of an ingenious technical crew and design team - directed with brilliant detail and nuance by Chris Abraham - bringing gorgeous sets, costumes, lighting, choreography, sound and music, into a simultaneously intimate, lush and grand romantic setting - making it all worthy of this 12 TIME TONY NOMINATED spectacular Canadian premiere of a highly acclaimed musical.


HELD OVER AT CROW'S THEATRE 
UNTIL FEBRUARY ELEVENTH

Wednesday, December 6, 2023





The current double bill of Daniel MacIvor's Here Lies Henry and Monster, running at Factory Theatre until mid-December, is a seamless and action packed study in the art of the emotional roller coaster - with touches of stand-up, horror movie, psychological word play, and a very complex perspective on ways in which story-telling and truth-telling inhabit (and 'un' inhabit) each other in unexpected ways that both thrill and perplex spectators in a moving and entertaining way. 

The presentation of these two very different 70 to 80 minute scripts compliment each other through the power of solo performances by Karl Ang (Monster) and Damien Atkins (Henry...), and reveal MacIvor's (with Daniel Brooks as collaborator) timeless talents for delving into the psyches of complex personalities, and their takes on the world at large.

Karl Ang takes on, in a skilful and engaging way, the voices of several characters that inhabit a harrowing childhood experience, and the accompanying graphically described scene from a gruesome film that has informed the central characters lives, as well as the intersectional presence of the horror film as a genre and a life experience. Ang is a master of vocal versatility and draws spectators in with a clear and powerful performance.

Atkins delivers a more playful, yet equally as mesmerizing performance thorough the character of Henry - a complicated mess of a man who is simultaneously endearing and infuriating as he rambles through a series of meditations on being alive, confused, and intent upon telling truth through lies, laced with the looming presence of mortality though another form of lying - as in horizontally inclined. He is especially engaging through the use of extreme physical agility as he is directed by Tawiah McCarthy with a very clear and expertly calculated finesse - at times dancing and moving about with an elegant comic grace and diverse physicality. Soheil Parsa's direction in Monster is equally adept at bringing precise and punctuating blocking, as well as fine emotional layering to the characters Ang so brilliantly inhabits.

Having seen the original productions with MacIvor in the roles, it might make sense to compare the varied performances. And yet there is no comparison. Gifted actors like MacIvor, Ang, and Atkins do justice to these complex scripts. From what I can remember, MacIvor brought a unique and singular energy to the roles that gave the theatrical solo performance experience a meta-theatrical tone and through-line, brought about by MacIvor's prolific output as writer and performer. Ang and Atkins bring more of an actor'ly presence, delving into specific character and emotional layers, while MacIvor inhabited the voice of the writer and actor through a kind of performance monologue technique that defies traditional notions of theatrical enterprise. Clearly, it is difficult to articulate the differences, and yet the mounting of these two productions reveals the timelessness of the scripts, and the ways in which they can be brought to life decades later by a brilliant production team.

The shows can be seen as a double bill or on separate evenings. For dates and times see;

https://www.factorytheatre.ca/whats-on/



SPOILER ALERT; 
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE EARLY PRODUCTIONS OF 'HERE LIES HENRY' AND 'MONSTER'

Here Lies Henry (2006)


Produced by

Da Da Kamera

Presented by

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

PlaywrightDaniel MacIvor
Director
Daniel Brooks

Venue

The Alexander Street Chamber Theatre

Run

September 19th, 2006 – October 15th, 2006



Synopsis

An idyllic SORT OF miserable SORT OF nightmarish SORT OF story book SORT OF remarkable SORT OF regular SORT OF story. A man alone in a room with a mission to tell you something you don’t already know.

With Here Lies Henry, MacIvor gives voice to the character of Henry, a self-confessed liar. Henry rambles with a mixture of energy and fun. He’s a thirty-something optimist who ponders the meaning and pointlessness of life. He begins slowly by revealing things about himself, such as his childhood, his homosexuality, and his lies. He claims his assignment is to tell the audience something they don’t already know. Since Henry is a professional liar, it’s difficult to distinguish between his lies and the truth. Presented in a minimalist style familiar to da da kamera audiences, one actor, light and sound combine to give an atmosphere of intimacy breaking down the fourth wall and making the audience feel like they are part of the drama. That is to say, making them feel like they are part of Henry’s world which of course, they are. MacIvor cannily distills the human condition and seesaws hilariously between truth and lies, and more lies. (buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com, 2006).

 



MONSTER


Monster, a one-man play, begins in the total darkness of a movie theatre. After a long silence, someone in the audience rudely shushes his neighbour, and the show begins. Daniel MacIvor transforms himself into a series of characters whose lives seem eerily related. There’s the young boy who tells the story of the neighbour lad who hacked up his father in the basement. There are alcoholic Al and shiny Janine, the lovers who quarrel, make up, and decide to marry after seeing a movie about a lad who … well, same thing. There’s the ex-drunk who dreamed up the movie, but got no credit because he was said to have stolen the idea from a famous unfinished film, a claim that so angered him that he went back on the sauce. And there’s the movie maker who made that incomplete epic.” 


                                                                    - Philadelphia Inquirer

 

 












Sunday, November 19, 2023


l-r - Pye, Bateman, Monet "The Very Unauthorized biographies - available at a fictional bookstore near you

Jono Pye - ARTIST WEBSITE BY 

Rob Wilkes OF BIG SKY DESIGN



Rob Wilkes, of Big Sky Design, has created a thoroughly engaging and aesthetically beautiful  multi-faceted structure for Jono Pye’s new website - highlighting in diverse ways through the use of moving images, and easily accessible categories, a variety of work ranging from still life to landscapes, portraits, bicycles, and comic book characters. 

Pye’s immense energy and love for an eclectic array of styles is brought together through a combination of the serious and the playful found in any given work - whether it be the colourful countenance of the most infamous member of The Group of Seven, or the ways in which landscape simultaneously separates and coheres in a decidedly Cezanne’esque manner, through the use of carefully executed, delicately divided brush strokes that display vibrant depth and infectious colour.

In his design for the website Wilkes has showcased his keen sense of continuity and visual engagement, making an online tour of the artists work a refreshing journey through hue and form. 

Pye continues to create work that gives life and enjoyment to the perception of everyday objects, from saxophones to apples, peaches, pets, bikes, barns, and the never ending serio-comic qualities of the human body in all its complicated glory. 

Rendering portraits of revered artists from the past, as well as favourite characters from the beloved Archie comic book series reveals a paradoxically cohesive eclecticism that  is brilliantly showcased in a website that adds a new layer of creativity and imagination to a lifelong process.

And writing Pye’s unauthorized bio for the site, with notes and ideas provided by Jono, was a new and delightful adventure for me as I wove memories, both factual and fictive - like much of life - from the career of an artist whose work attests to commitment, playfulness, and a seemingly endless capacity to create.



poster from 2022/2023 Toronto exhibit


Friday, September 22, 2023

 

A masterful ensemble takes the stage and immediately draws the audience into a mesmerizing kind of corporate rapture, doublespeak, and high stakes ecological impairment as one watches Michael Healey's brilliant new script take flight in a unique blend of theatre and high tech power point presentation that balances evenly and seamlessly with the onstage action scrambling below.

 The entire cast shines with intense energy and a mistakenly placed birthday-cakeface standout moment nearing the end as one of the performers moves breathlessly and manically through intricate, breakneck blocking with their leg in a cast and a seamless, unbreakable, comic flair. 

Recent news of the greenbelt debacle and its surprising yet welcome turnaround in the hands of a suddenly apologetic real estate mongering premiere, alongside frequent news regarding a plot of geodesic dome- covered, former semi-amusement park memories resting on island-like landfill being stolen from the 'public' by Northern European spa enthusiasts, when the landfill perhaps never should have been put there in the first place and the land was stolen land in the first place - all of these run-on monumental tidbits become the mocking merriment of earth-shattering dirt re-arranging that indirectly-cum-directly connects to the woes of Toronto as an ever-growing urban carnivale-like assortment of waterfront (and beyond) developments that have been littering the political and geographic landscape for decades. 




As Healey's script points out, with its impressive mass of historical/political information, the century old re-direction of  the Don River, and the ensuing problems with that unsound environmental move, plays a part in Healey's satirically drawn script as the big waterfront players collide on a crash course with Google and its plans for a SMART future for urban centres replete with moveable sidewalks, potentially unwieldy data storage, and views of a lake that must be exhausted by all of the age-old, unnatural changes to its immense, breathtaking shoreline. Remember when Front Street was a beach and the island wasn't an island? Google it!

And then there's the Gardiner Expressway as it makes a cameo appearance with its own tale of woesome, un-winsomely handled land acknowledgement - rich in colonizing intent within a not so subtle sub-text as the final moments refer to a deal made with indigenous land stewards that becomes redundant in the hands of the fumbling corporate players on both sides of the US/Canadian border.


HELDOVER UNTIL OCTOBER 15TH, CROW'S THEATRE

___________________



Based on JOSH O'KANES book Sideways: The City Google Couldn't Buy THE MASTER PLAN is far beyond my reach of political intelligence and information intake, which is a very good thing for challenged spectators such as myselfbecause it plays with the facts, delights and appalls the imagination with ingenious theatrical flair, and takes the stage in a spectacular array of blocking and technology masterfully arranged by director Chris Abraham and a team of actors and arts technicians/designers in a way that leaves one breathless with an entertaining mixture of disgust, dismay, bewilderment and glee with each new morsel of factually based big business repartee and real estate wrangling. 

And all of this motivates one to read the book, do the research, and learn more and more about the ongoing machinations of a city - of so many cities in turmoil - on a planet where urban development has consistently ravaged the land as we try to imagine climate change as just another challenge for the ages - and if there is anything we can possibly do about it.

And then there's the priceless fleeting little remark about New York City's much lauded - yet infrequently critiqued as  unremarkable - High Line (and surrounding over-priced environs) that jumps out at you and tickles the not so funny bone in a most delightfully scathing way.



___________________________________________

FROM CROW'S THEATRE PROMO

In 2017, when the public agency Waterfront Toronto decided to put up a parcel of land for development, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s Alphabet Inc., swept in with a proposal to create the city of the future. Waterfront Toronto jumped at the opportunity to advance housing sustainability and affordability by exploring Alphabet’s innovative technology and data-driven techniques. But the project quickly started to fall apart from uneasy partnerships, sclerotic local politics, and an overwhelmingly negative public response.

In this biting comedy about the failure to build a smart city in Toronto, Michael Healey lampoons the corporate drama, epic personalities, and iconic Canadian figures involved in the messy affair between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto. Based on the bestselling exposé, Sideways: The City Google Couldn't Buy by Josh O’Kane, The Master Plan exposes the hubris of big tech, the feebleness of government, and the dangers of public consultation with sharp wit and insightful commentary.


Crow’s Theatre presents
THE MASTER PLAN


The World Premiere of a New Comedy
Written by Michael Healey
Based on Sideways: The City Google Couldnt Buy by Josh O’Kane
Directed by Chris Abraham

Featuring Christopher Allen, Ben Carlson, Philippa Domville, Peter Fernandes, Yanna McIntosh, Tara Nicodemo, Mike Shara
September 5 to October 8, 2023 (HELDOVER UNTIL OCTOBER 15TH)

ALL PHOTOS BY DAHLIA KATZ


Monday, December 12, 2022

 Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 1833. Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has collapsed onstage while playing Othello. Ira Aldridge, a young, Black American actor has been asked to take over the role, but a Black man has never played Othello on the English stage before. His groundbreaking performance upends centuries of British stage tradition and changes the lives of everyone involved.

As anti-abolition riots take over the streets of London, how will the cast, critics, and audience react to the race revolution taking place in the theatre?

Director Cherissa Richards (The Power of Harriet T, Manitoba Theatre for Young People), recipient of the 2021 Crow’s Theatre RBC Rising Star Emerging Director Prize, returns to Crow’s after working as Assistant Director on MixTape last season.

 for more info and video footage see -

https://www.nowplayingtoronto.com/event/red-velvet/

________________________________

 


Lolita Chakrabarti’s 2012 play, Red Velvet, is a powerful two act tour de force for a cast of eight characters as they inhabit the world of 19th century theatre where very particular styles of acting, and casting, dominated the consciousness of many theatregoers. This dominance, of course, was entangled with vehement racism and played an historical part in the long and arduous history of black actors being denied the possibility of playing black characters, Shakespeare’s Othello in particular. 

 

As director Cherissa Richards says in the program notes – “We often think Paul Robeson in the mid-twentieth century was the first Black man to play Othello in London” – and goes on to say that it was, in fact, Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), an African-American thespian who, at age 15, joined the Manhattan based ‘African Company’ and left New York in 1924 after finding it difficult to secure theatre work in the U.S. Aldridge was able to get roles at London’s Royal Cobourg Theatre (now The Old Vic), performing under the name of ‘Mr. Keane, Tragedian of colour’ -as a tribute to the acclaimed Shakespearean actor of the time, Edmund Keane.

                                                 Ira Aldridge
 

Becoming the first Black man to play Othello, over one hundred years before Robeson, Aldridge entered the theatre during a time of great change in acting styles, and an ongoing systemically racist time that begrudgingly allowed actors of colour to take roles clearly written for people of colour. 

 

This tendency, particularly in the case of Othello, continued well into the 20th century, with perhaps the most famous examples being Orson Welles’ contemporary adaptation in the 1952 film ‘The Other Woman’ and Laurence Olivier’s 1985 cinematic mess where he played the role in blackface, adopted an invented accent and a very particular way of walking. One could call it method acting, but by doing so, without revealing the racist tendencies frequently apparent in mimicry, a lot would be missing from the extremely problematic racialized equation.

                                             Orson Welles in The Other Woman, 1952



                                                                Laurence Olivier in Othello, 1985

 

But apart from all the deplorable historical detail, there lies Chakrabarti’s play, promoted by Crow’s Theatre as “an imagined version of true events.” The playwright has utilized, to powerful effect, Aldridge’s career, and the time period, within a traditional theatrical structure, in order to create a fable like kind of realism that heightens the intent and brings it to twenty-first century audiences in an effective, fast-paced journey through a moment in Aldridge’s career.


 

L-R: Patrick McManus, Nathan Howe, Amelia Sargisson, Ellen Denny, Starr Domingue, Allan Louis in Crow’s Theatre Red Velvet (Photo: John Lauener)


The ensemble, led by Allan Louis in the lead role, is directed by Cherissa Richards with great intricacy as actors must move seamlessly in and out of nineteenth and twentieth century acting styles – styles that began to mingle and evolve during Aldridge’s career. This is no easy task, and is handled expertly by all of the actors. Jeff Lillico as Charles Kean and Ellen Denny as Ellen Tree enact flawless transitions between styles. Lillico, in particular, has intense and convincing moments of passion when his character reveals the racialized biases contained within the differing styles. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design punctuates, especially in the final dream-like moments, the non-stop struggle and conflict at the heart of the play.


Louis, as Othello, creates a highly charged and diverse intensity as he inhabits the role of Aldridge, punctuating every scene with passion and emotional fervour that reveals layers of sensitivity and bewildering challenge in the face of his detractors, both on and offstage.



l-r Allan Louis, Ellen Denny
 

l-r Amelia Sargisson, Allan Louis   


l-r Allan Louis, Nathan Howe, Ellen Deny, Jeff Lillico

Coming in at around two hours, with one intermission, the Crow’s production is a compelling and timely reminder of an ongoing tragedy that still occurs on streets, live stages, and in the cinema worldwide. The imbalance around representation, and the actors chosen to  play various roles, continues to play a dominant part, despite notable exceptions, in the systemic racism of the 21st century, nearing two hundred years after Ira Aldridge became the first black man to play Othello.


________________________________________


"Why is Ira's legacy forgotten? Why did this man who changed the world of British theatre disappear into the ephemeral mist of our memory? Why aren't theatres named after this iconic trailblazer? Why is he a mere footnote in the faded memories of our great Shakespearean actors?...


Almost 200 years after Ira made his London debut as Othello we find ourselves asking the same questions, and more. When change comes banging at our door, will we be ready for it? When the flames of change come roaring through your door, whose hand will you reach out for?"


Cherissa Richards,  DIRECTOR OF RED VELVET

_________________________________

red velvet runs at crows theatre until December 18th



https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/16686673-red-velvet



 

Sunday, December 11, 2022



cover illustration by Claire Fines (drawn in grade two when she was seven)


Whether it be the whirling motion of a mesmerizing Sufi dance, the measured movement of a waltz or a polka, or the restrained abandon of a Virginia reel, PJ Thomas sets her sites upon a form of “ferocious dancing” that choreographs and gesticulates through vivid, striking images that gives her new collection Waves a kind of eloquent, homespun surrealism that constructs poetic language out of everyday objects and occurrences.

An anthropomorphic element surfaces at one point when fruit and vegetable 

become simmering enlivened symbols that glide out of the poet’s consciousness 

and create sharp, distinct ways of seeing the commonplace as both startling and 

joyfully unsettling. Peaches, tomatoes, cracked peppercorn, crickets and ducks join 

with mahogany rails, cut marble, aloe vera, and potted tropical plants that “festoon 

the dining room / creating candour.” 


Ultimately the reader, accompanied by these mesmerizing inanimate things & beings, takes a journey through this object laden landscape that addresses layers of friendship, fruition, and the fear of future isolation where “everybody weeps differently” - both in and out of enforced and re-enforced solitude, both remote and intimate. It is an environment of surprising force and comfort that simultaneously calms and disrupts. PJ’s words embody varied and moving ‘waves’ of meditation. She creates movement and depth of emotion as witness to the intricacies of landscape - “fruit-bearing cherry trees, ginseng growing wild, and prickly pear mixed with the stand of oaks” as well as the broad, compassionate, searching swaths of human interaction, questioning, and evolving nature. 


 * Rick Fines - 'Solar Powered Too'  Juno nominee for best blues album, 2021

And a wonderful moment in the frequent & constant commingling of poetry and music when we learn  that acclaimed Peterborough musician Rick Fines adapted one of the poems from the collection for his Juno nominated blues album.
Thomas's poem, Fundamental Nature, provides a perfect combination of lyric poetic prose for what has been described as the "warm-hearted blues, juke joint folk, and dockside soul" that Fines' music embodies.


Friday, November 11, 2022

 


Without the fantasy/horror elements, there are times when The Gospel of Now reads like an especially thrilling, extended episode of Stranger Things, conjuring images of teenaged characters caught in a socio-cultural set of chaotic and frightening circumstances that may lead them into complex and highly engaging situations - becoming an epic journey given the nature of the central image of the mushroom cloud that becomes a haunting symbol brandished upon the most surprising spaces - from football helmets to high school logos.


woodcut prints by the author, inspired by the work of Paul Gauguin and the German Expressionist Die Brücke


With woodcut prints by the author the book becomes an illuminated and illuminating journey chronicling one young man's journey through a particularly troubling period from history that changed the course of global destiny - an especially timely narrative in the midst of current international conflict.

Occullis's writing is crisp and detailed and moves at a rapid pace with the skill of a seasoned storyteller in touch with the emotions of each character. Ready to reveal their most innermost emotions, sensitivities, proclivities - the narrative engages, saddens, entertains, and surprises with it's seamless sequential style as a cast of teenagers and their frequently hapless parents all rise to the challenge of growing up/living in the US in the eighties and dealing with the aftermath of a town selected as the site for the construction of a profoundly deadly force still at work globally in the 21st century. Harrowing cinematic scenes occur within toxic physical and emotional sites, and the sense of a counter cultural force trying to transcend daily chaos shines through with each passing chapter. 

The opening lines set the stage for an experience many may relate to, as drug dependency, fashion, and music become, simultaneously, an environment about to be travelled through at high speed - ultimately becoming both a way in and a way out of social and cultural madness in all its glory and all its loss.

The day I quit taking Ritalin, I realized  was fucked.

Eighteen, uneducated, and dependent on a drug I couldn't afford without my father's health insurance - I was already a loser...

It was 1986, and my generation was the first in a century that wouldn't do as well as their parents. The music sucked, the clothes were shitty, and everything people valued seemed ridiculous. This is what happens when you elect a movie star as president.

Despite the intense trials and frightening global conditions that prevail - the microcosm and the macrocosm of this simultaneously local and global narrative - there is a strong sense of joy and survival underlying the seriousness and the challenging nature of the protagonist's intense trajectory. The Gospel of Now shines brightly with poignancy and electrifying storytelling as a testament to survival in a world where survival seems more and more fragile every day.