Thursday, November 18, 2010


The current re-mount of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Severe Clear, currently running at the Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront, is a frequently exhilarating and elegant romp through a series of very impressionistic stories about the Yukon. After a visit in 2000 choreographer Christopher House came away with the inspiration for the show. House has crafted some fine dance/theatre segments through the use of spoken narrative that complements beautiful evocative physicality. In its finest moments Severe Clear utilizes this double-edged technique with extreme grace and power, at one point thoroughly engaging the audience as we follow a bird-like dancer and her ‘water-bearer’ through a harrowing battle with turbulent rapids and a final plunge into an ensemble whirlpool at the end of the scene, or so it seems. The narration that sets the tone for this segment, like all of the spoken narrative, has a crisp, broadcaster quality that provides a very uneasy contrast-cum-connection to the movement that follows. Voiceovers seem only indirectly connected to the dance stories, making it difficult to know whether the brief tale one has just been told is in fact related to the movement that follows.

The bird in the water narrative, describing a migration route from the Yukon to Antarctica and back again, with frequently fatal stops at the edge of Niagara Falls, is perhaps the most explicit and exciting coupling of word and movement, but even this element is somewhat obtuse regarding the merging of dance and spoken text. And despite many moments of exciting choreography, this is the general problem with the piece. It doesn’t cohere, and the attractive but overly playful set and costumes do nothing to aid these struggling stories as they awkwardly blend with accompanying sections of prolonged choreography.

Moments of softer, elegant movement occur from time to time, but there is so much lifeless filler wherein faint gestural movement lapses into static sections of prolonged wandering that one cannot help but wonder whether a thirty minute version would have been sufficient. One moment of empty bravado happens when the bewildering, inflatable, transparent, playground-like set pieces meant to look like huge chunks of ice are placed in a heap to one side of the stage for no apparent reason, and then a dancer inexplicably leaps into them. This exemplifies the times when the movement becomes almost childlike in a distressing and alienating way, doing nothing to further the sense of dance and storytelling that is introduced at the outset.

All of the dancers are in fine form as they commit themselves fully to this uneven mixture of choreographic narrative. There are early moments of great energy and frolicking twists, leaps, and turns that re-occur throughout, complimented by some truly lovely moments of subtler gestural motion perfectly coupled with the elegance of the musical segments of Phil Strong’s sound design and Roelof Peter Snippe's layered background lighting. Unfortunately, as a whole this re-mount does not gel into a fluid piece. Perhaps this is partially the result of the choreographer’s impression of a part of this country's landscape that is simultaneously elegant, calm, frigid, welcoming, alienating and explosive, like a Lawren Harris painting. Clear skies and severe temperatures coupled with raw monumental terrain make up the gorgeous overwhelming landscape of Canada’s Far North. However, in Severe Clear the elements of storytelling combined with the jarring sound quality of poorly delivered spoken stories make the overall experience hard to follow, and at times impossible to engage with. Narrative that appears to represent elements of some forms of aboriginal storytelling employs an awkward simplicity that belies the delicacy and power of the source material.

Nevertheless, coming in at 62 minutes, the show is well worth the price of admission for the opportunity to see artists engaging in a series of fine, gorgeous moments of severe, clear choreography that could have been stripped of some the unevenly conceived narrative connections and triumphed in a less cluttered and disorganized dance/theatre space.

Severe Clear runs at the Fleck Dance Theatre

Harbourfront Centre, until November 20th

Saturday, November 6, 2010


"A small man can be as exhausted as a great man."

Death of A Salesman, one of the most acclaimed American plays of the 20th century, ran for 745 performances in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize later that year. Comprised primarily of flashbacks chronicling the downfall of a sixty-three year old man struggling to keep his career alive, the script is a relentless, melancholy exercise in the American Dream gone terribly wrong. Playwright Arthur Miller crafted a semi-linear, intricate narrative that defies the laws of naturalism by skillfully writing scenes that move seamlessly in and out of dialogue depicting family drama, corporate greed, and the escalating dementia of the title character, Willie Loman. Unable to let go of his flawed, supercilious belief in personable charm as the measure of a good man, Willie never fully recognizes his utterly fictional claim to fame as the ever-popular New England representative for a New York company. His two sons, Biff and Happy, become traumatized side-effects of his lifelong delusion, while wife Linda occupies a stalwart, altruistic position as the ever-loving spouse unable to say a single negative thing about her dear demented hubby.

The current Soulpepper ensemble takes this lengthy script and manages, under the direction of Albert Schultz, to create a moving and energetic two hours and fifty five minutes in the theatre - never lapsing into the drudgery of non-stop, abject emotion for a moment, finding the humour and the pathos necessary to a successful production of a play that could easily become bogged down by the never ending tragedy of the text. Nancy Palk plays the role of Linda with genuine affection, and the power and dignity necessary in order to render the famous “attention must be paid” speech with absolute conviction. Palk’s husband, Joeseph Zeigler, in the role of Willy, employs immense emotional range and impeccable timing as he shows his muddled brand of love for his onstage wife with the intrusive, overlapping, bickering dialogue that characterizes his abusive rhetorical gabbing during the heyday of his tragic downfall. And this is perhaps the true strength of the Soulpepper production. Director Albert Schultz has wrought, from a diverse palette of glory and ghastliness, the sense of a man and a family blinded by glory and bogged down by illusion. The cast and director have created a believable family of actors who understand, with each facial gesture and each emotion, the intricacy of thought and feeling essential to their characters. Tim Campbell’s beleaguered Happy winces at every word his father utters as he takes a backseat to Biff, the favored son. But when the stakes heighten and Happy has the opportunity to create his own brand of paternalistic bravado, he never falters, defending himself and his father’s delusional ways at every turn. Ari Cohen’s Biff finds a truly elegant range of emotion as he moves from brash argumentative son to a character struggling against all odds to be honest with himself and a father who triggered Biff’s own lifelong struggle to become a great man. The emotional range sought by the ensemble weakens only slightly at pivotal moments for the extremely difficult ‘crying scenes’ - scenes that might have been sculpted a little more judiciously with an eye for suppressed inner turmoil rather than overt emotion. Ziegler finds his teary moments in a successful, restrained, glassy-eyed mode, while some of the other actors don’t quite reach the summit of their chosen emotional peaks. These heart- wrenching highs are achieved in so many other ways that the tearless wailing that marks some of the later scenes appears somewhat overplayed and slightly cringeworthy.

Nevertheless, the overall production is a tour de force for a twelve actor ensemble that embarks upon this incredible urban journey, allowing an audience to laugh, cry, and frequently wince at the sometimes wanton, sometimes whimsical wanderings of men half in love with themselves and half in love with the women they - perhaps unconsciouslly? - use as pawns in their timeworn homosocial game of emotional monopoly. This is a nearly perfect production of a classic script that endures changing social histories as it reflects the ongoing roller coaster of capitalist economies with its universal themes on life, love, and the pursuit of a secure income. Not to be missed!!!

held over at the Young Centre (Distillery District) until November 20th

Friday, November 5, 2010


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over--

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

The current Soulpepper production of Lorraine Hansberrry’s acclaimed A Raisin In The Sun is an emotionally charged rendition of an historic script that examines American race politics through the gaze of a struggling black family on the threshold of moving to a white middle-class neighbourhood in Chicago. The drama unfolds through a complex series of relationships between mother and son, daughter and suitors, husband and wife. This triumvirate of social interaction manages, in Hansberry’s intricately developed text, to feature broad historical issues ranging from African/American history as it relates to inter-cultural generational experience from Nigeria to the U.S., as well as the ways in which racism and real estate become entangled within vicious circles of oppressive class-based sentiments.

The cast, led by Alison Sealy-Smith as Lena Younger, the matriarch struggling to do the right thing with her late husband’s substantial insurance policy, presents a lively yet frequently uneven production that resonates with subtle tragic-comic overtones expertly crafted into the script. Sealy-Smith shines as the steadfast mother, surrounded by a supporting cast that falters from time to time through an uneven emotional range that makes some of the social realism a little hard to fathom. Bahia Watson as Beneatha Younger, skillfully portrays the intelligence and vivacity necessary to the role, yet her physicality and vocal ability frequently verge on the melodramatic. This works well in certain physical scenes but becomes somewhat awkward when the realism turns to dialogue requiring more nuanced interaction. Similarly, Charles Officer’s Walter Lee Younger, although a very strong and credible son to Sealy-Smith's powerful mother, lapses into moments of awkwardness that don’t quite live up to his otherwise powerful, smouldering persona. Barbara Barnes-Hopkins gives a surprising and expertly comic cameo as Mrs. Johnson as she draws on skillfully and delicately managed gestural nuance in order to reveal Hansberry’s concerns over particular responses to stereotypes projected onto black communities of the time.

Although uneven at times, the ensemble brings Hansberry’s work to life with rich layers of emotional intensity. Based on an incident experienced by her and her family in 1940 when they won the right to a day in court regarding the purchase of a new home in a white neighbourhood , the playwright wrote about this formative event in her book To Be Young, Gifted, and Black:

"25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation's ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."

The Soulpepper production has been held over until November 20th and is a crowd- pleasing family saga that brings an iconic script to a Toronto stage for the second time in the past two years. The 2008 production won Sealy-Smith a Dora award for outstanding performance by a female in a principal role. The resonant, timeless strength of A Raisin In The Sun play can still be seen in 2010 as a production of Clybourne Park, a contemporary response to Hansberry’s play, opened at Playwright’s Horizon in New York last February with a subsequent production at London’s Royal Court Theatre.




The current Danceworks production at Harbourfront is an intriguing and powerful piece of choreography that combines a variety of performance disciplines in order to create an eighty-five minute meditation on the uneven nature of love and physical interplay. The uneven nature of the theme however, seeps into the overall mise-en-scene, making for a frequently bewildering yet fascinating exploration of voice and movement.

Sasha Ivanochko both performs and choreographs the two connected pieces that comprise the evening. Her presence onstage is immediately engaging as she exhibits vivid facial and bodily expression. The first ten to fifteen minute section lags somewhat as the subtle, somewhat ponderous gestural movements take time to morph into an explosive mixture of physicality and staccato text.

Ivanochko’s environment for the piece includes an evocative backdrop by designer Trevor Schwellnus that, although an impressive and simple brick wall with painted signage, quickly becomes a rather static and naturalistic addition to an otherwise expressionistic piece. Similarly, the text, both spoken and sung, including excerpted citations to Ethel Merman and Patsy Cline, entices the audience with an idea of story that might have been further developed through the use of recorded sound in order to add another layer to what appears to be a rather inconsistent approach to dance theatre. Although a kind of stylistic inconsistency may be part and parcel of some multi-disciplinary experimentation, this production could use a little judicious trimming.

Ivanochko’s vocal abilities are very effective and pleasing throughout, and yet they bear an incongruous relationship to the rest of the piece, and might have been balanced by a more pervasive recorded soundscape, giving her a more condensed and integrated opportunity in which to explore the physical nuances of the work. The highlight of the first section occurs during an extremely visceral moment that combines both physical and vocal agility, revealing Ivanochko’s impressive and graceful ability to defy gravity with her lower body while she lies onstage and emits Patti Smith-like song stylings into a prostrate microphone. In her program notes she asks her audience to bear witness to an exploration of “the pleasure/pain” reflex” and to “play a role” in the proceedings by taking “what you wish from the story (or stories).” Her desire to explore these areas through a combination of dance and spoken narrative has prompted a surprising mixture of citational movement and sound, ranging from Broadway divas to country music icons, ultimately creating a very contrasting and unexpected mixture of styles.

The second half of the evening brings the male counterpart to Ivanochko’s emotional journey onstage. Brendan Wyatt’s presence gives the choreographer the opportunity to produce even more explosive images for a dancer able to create ballet-like, gestural performance that frequently explodes into extreme physical aggression. Wyatt’s expertise with this range of styles, and the coupling between him and Ivanochko, makes for a number of memorable, heart wrenching moments where the duo engage in loving equations that end in total physical collapse.

Overall, the evening provides a series of very guttural and beautiful testaments to romantic interaction as it is played out within a highly theatrical environment that playfully flirts with the idea of performer as diva through the use of an onstage microphone that becomes a literal metaphor for frequently comic emotional bravado. A more condensed version, with the use of projections and a stronger, less intermittent soundscape, could move the piece into a fully integrated, less uneven atmosphere for what the artist has called The Future Memory Heartbreak Junction, Diptych - an entertaining and evocative coupling that might benefit by becoming a single panel for two dancers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Love Loss, and What I Wore

Powerful Stories for Powerful Women

Originally intended as a nostalgic souvenir for friends, Ilene Beckermans’s book Love, Loss, and What I Wore has become a huge theatrical success story as a vehicle for a diverse collection of actresses to gather together and tell stories about women and clothing, stories that both tug at the heart and entertain with great comic finesse.

Adapted for the stage by Nora and Delia Ephron, this collection of monologues and interactive dialogue is reminiscent of The Vagina Monologues as it presents five performers lined up onstage, all in black dresses, and reading these tales from simple podiums. The simple and direct staging highlights the storytelling quality but doesn’t restrict the superb theatricality as performers move seamlessly in and out of memorized and read dialogue, adding their individual acting talents to each new narrative.

Playing in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York, the piece has featured, in a rotating cast, luminaries such as Kristin Chenowith, Tyne Daly, Loretta Swit, Barbara Feldon, Brooke Shields, Fran Drescher, Rita Wilson, Carol Kane, and Rhea Perlman - to name only a few. The current Toronto cast features Patricia Hamilton, Mary Lou Fallis, Lisa Horner, Leah Pinsent, trey anthony, and Stacey Farber. In recent months the Canadian ensemble has included Andrea Martin, Sharron Matthews, Mary Walsh, Paula Brancati, and Louise Pitrie.

Stories range from heart wrenching tales of rape and breast cancer to lighthearted memories of what it’s like to wear a bra. In the current incarnation Mary Lou Fallis, Canadian operatic singer/comedienne extraordinaire, performs a single line from the hilarious brassiere segment with great diva-esque flair, while the entire ensemble does a Madonna clothing riff with impeccable timing and great ‘girlpower’ as memorable lines are sent out to an empathetic and thoroughly engaged audience.

“Any woman who says she has never dressed like Madonna is either lying or Amish.”

“I made out with a girl.”

“I made out with a bunch of gay men.”

Whether they are reflecting upon the influence of a spectacular pop icon and her bold fashion sense, letting us in on the secret life of a not so cherished purse, or interrogating the omnipresence of black as a favored hue for frocks, the five women onstage are a fabulous example of the kind of storytelling that universalizes gender experience in a very special way, moving beyond the theatre and into the hearts of women in their daily lives.

A portion from proceeds from some of the productions benefits the ‘Dress for Success’ charity, providing work clothing and job support for low income women. The production gives actresses and audiences the opportunity to experience women’s stories in a simple, direct, and refreshing way that highlights the physical and emotional presence of a range of extraordinary performers who have made their marks, and continue to, in the entertainment world. Lisa Horner recently finished a run in the highly successful My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, while trey anthony holds the distinction of being the first Black Canadian woman to write and produce a television show (da’ Kink in My Hair) on a prime time Canadian network. Da’ Kink in My Hair was already an award winning piece of Canadian theatre before becoming a popular series. All of the actresses involved in Love, Loss, and What I Wore bring their own success stories to the stage as they create an ongoing ensemble of powerful women sharing powerful tales.

The current Toronto production runs at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St) until Oct 30th

Friday, October 8, 2010


The Clockmaker is a charming and alarming little play about broken moments, domestic abuse, keeping time, and ending up in the same place long after you've stopped your watch and had your day. The current Tarragon production of Stephen Massicotte’s new drama, directed by Bob White, clips along at an uneven pace that effectively highlights a kind of stylized acting appropriate to this fable of sorts. Unfortunately the ensemble, although skilful in their delivery and physical nuance, is not entirely consistent with the allegorical overtones, thereby rendering the drama a little uneven, and the final pivotal moments somewhat anti-climactic.

Damien Atkins as Monsieur Pierre and Christian Goutsis as Herr Mann deliver stylish, subtly melodramatic performances suitable to this simple tale of love and poorly timed mayhem, with Claire Calnan presenting a charming and emotionally nuanced Frieda, the hapless wife who wanders into the clock shop in need of repair. Kevin Bundy’s portrayal of Adolphus however, although proficient and physically powerful, tips the scale in an unexpected direction as he appears to be in a more realist version of the drama at hand, contrasting uncomfortably with the ‘fairy tale gone terribly wrong’ style of the play.

Nevertheless, The Clockmaker is a thoughtful and provocative drama with moments of dark comic respite and reward for four characters trapped in an untimely dimension.


BLASTED Terrifying

&Visceral !!!

Two things to remember when you see the current Buddies In Bad Times Production of Blasted;

1/ when the stage directions frighten you, you know you’re in for a terrifying and visceral ride in the country

2/ when the stage directions seem impossible to actually produce, and you know the director has a knack for making the implausible look very real and very frightening, you’re in for a terrifying and visceral ride in the country

It could be just about any posh hotel room, in just about any country, but it cannot be anything other than terrifying and visceral if it’s going to work - perhaps the best words to describe director Brendan Healey’s production of Sarah Kanes Blasted - terrifying and visceral - and it works!!!

Initially perceived by critics as a vulgar piece of shock value theatrical warfare, the play has become a contemporary classic that is truly Shakespearean and extremely queer as it moves through a series of extended tableaus, with sex, dialogue, and man to man lusty brutality that shakes the flaming stick at cross-cultural homophobia in a striking and complex manner.

As social commentary Blasted achingly reminds many of us of our privilege, and how that privilege can be literally shattered and torn apart, from the outside in, even when we are feeling safe inside pricey lodgings.

Daivd Ferry as the lead male character is superb as he delivers a breakneck performance . His interpretation of Ian, the gun wielding rebel without a cause, is a truly mesmerizing portrait of how skewed romantic notions of love can include abuse, racism, and, well, lets keep the worst part of his appetites a secret for the faint of heart. Ferry is a superb interpreter of the physicality of this complex monster, and manages, against all odds, to bring depth and seamy, questionable substance to a shallow and deplorable character.

Similarly, Michelle Monteith’s Cate is an exquisite mixture of childish, traumatized femininity that knows how to survive in the worst situation imaginable. Although a much smaller part than the two principles, Dylan Smith’s Soldier matches, measure for measure, his co-stars craft with the crucial violence of the piece as he rounds out a three hander ensemble that has pulled out all the stops, giving the audience close to tow hours of stomach churning action packed misadventure

The tendency to write this play off as a vulgar piece of gratuitous stage indecency is reductionist at best. Kane’s ability to create profound socially conscious moments throughout seem timeless as they remind us of every global atrocity-cum-conflict we hear, and see image of, through daily media accounts. Kane has given us those accounts in a meta-theatrical way by crafting a journalist character into a psychopath who balks at the kind brutal reality that his public doesn’t care to read about.

But there is a a price to pay for the casual ways in which culture ignores what is right in front of us. By literally inviting us in through the back door of the theatre, the Buddies production brings it all into our collective living rooms as a captive audience, thereby living up to every grueling moment of Kane’s relentless dramaturgy. We are left breathless and overwhelmed by superb acting skill and superb drama as we laugh, cry, cringe, squirm, and finally file out of the beautifully designed battleground and back into our own little televised lives.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Strings Attached

Ronnie Burkett’s new show a very queer triumph

Ronnie Burkett’s newest show, Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy, currently running at Factory Theatre, is a queer spectacle of autobiographical proportions. Burkett may not have lived exactly the same life as his protagonist, but the potential similarities are impossible to miss as the title character guides us through the remarkable life of an acclaimed marionette artist from humble prairie beginnings who struggles with a variety of problems regarding his identity as an artist and as a man.

As a designer, actor, and writer, Billy grapples with his position as a cruise ship entertainer, and early on in the show, becomes dissatisfied and disgusted with his audience. This is perhaps the boldest, most meta-theatrical, and funniest aspect of Burkett’s new show, and sets the stage for a daring exploration of the relationship between the artist, his fans, his mentors, and his creations. The humour is contrasted and blended with sharp moments of homophobia as Billy, and Burkett, directly rebuke invisible spectators for homophobic remarks. The puppet and the puppeteer become larger than life examples of the risks a queer performer takes every time he or she sets foot onstage and faces the possibility of an insensitive, potentially queer bashing audience.

The term faggot surfaces early on and begins Billy’s unsettling journey from creative boy to brilliant young man, ultimately finding himself in the position of an older mentor to a younger generation of marionette artists. As the recipient of the 2009 Simonovitch award for design, Burkett has reaped the benefits of collegial acclaim and has been able to encourage new talent as part of the award. The prize comes with a $75,000 cash component as well as another $25,000 for the winner to give to an aspiring artist of their choice

Billy Twinkle possesses all of the same stokes of genius that Burkett has amply revealed in past shows. The beautifully rendered songs (with music by John Alcorn), the gorgeous costumes and characters, the gloriously irreverent animal puppets - but the difference in this show is the incredible scope of the text. All of Burkett’s scripts tend to deal with large world issues, and yet, as a somewhat auto-biographical text, this one is perhaps the queerest and the most ambitious, as it tackles ideas around the distinctions between fine art and popular art, sexual identity, and even inter-generational desire in one uncomfortable and beautifully rendered scene between Billy as a young man and an older spectator who invites him to his hotel room after a show. But even when Burkett moves into these difficult spaces around identity he does it with such sensitivity that it moves the message into a broad world of love, creativity, and desire.

Billy Twinkle is a tour de force that sparkles with all the intensity and glamour of human triumph, indignity, and the brutal, often rewarding decisions artists are forced to make when they commit themselves to lives in the theatre.

running at Factory Theatre until October 24th

Sunday, September 26, 2010

canadian stage current show is not krapp!!!

The current canadianstage production of fernando krapp wrote me this letter is a feast for the eyes and ears. Director Matthew Jocelyn has given his actors a dance-like quality as they indulge in incredible, at times slapstick, movement across a stage design that is both intimate and monumentally cold and barren. Evocative and thrilling sets and costumes by Astrid Janson and lighting by Robert Thomson punctuate this harrowing, at times comic drama.

A huge revolve locates the action within a variety of settings that represent the dwelling places of the central straight couple - a couple in the throes of a very surreal and intense form of conjugal ‘bliss.’ With psychoanalytic overtones and darkly comic moments, the ensemble performs this incredible play with great skill and acumen as they take somewhat oblique and enigmatic characters and render them life like and terrifying.

Tranlsated by Joceylyn, from the original German script by Tankred Dorst, the piece has German expressionist overtones with hints of the kind of socially charged works of Yazmina Reza and Edward Albee. This is an explosive collision of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The God of Carnage - on LSD, and is a must see as the opening show for the canadianstage 2010 season.

Jocelyn’s new vision for the company - “to challenge and reinvent traditional notions of theatre” - is played to the hilt in Krapp and includes utterly poignant stage effects that culminate with a beautiful scene of Shakespearean proportions, replete with a haunting lyric and a giant backdrop that hit home the pivotal message about love, loss, memory, misunderstanding, altruism, and absolute matrimonial confusion.

Carefully placed picketers outside the theatre on opening night displayed the pun ‘ish message on bright yellow placards - live theatre is krapp - with matching buttons available in the lobby. On the contrary - fernando krapp wrote me this letter reveals the intensity of emotion and high level of diverse aesthetic commitment that Jocelyn, as the new Artistic Director at canadianstage, intends to bring to the company.

running until october 16th at the the bluma appel theatre

front street

Monday, July 26, 2010






The Stratford Festival production of Jacques Brel is Alive and well and living in Paris is an exquisite example of musical cabaret theatre at its finest. A cast of two men and two women deliver a gorgeous array of engaging, poignant, and high-spirited songs from the iconic French singer and composer.

Any longtime Brent Carver fan will be mesmerized by his superb performance, and may be tempted to wish that every song was performed by Carver in concert. But the other performers are up to the task of keeping company with a musical theatre genius as they hit each note with perfect theatrical and tuneful pitch as they take audiences on a joyful ride through a diverse array of unforgettable songs.


Jewelle Blackman

Mike Nadajewski

Natalie Nadon

Brent Carver

Tom Patterson Theatre

May 14 to Sept 25



Des McAnuff’s production of As You like is a thoroughly entertaining and utterly surreal version of one of the bard’s most popular comedies. McAnuff’s penchant for Broadway-esque showmanship is superb as he updates the setting and gives the play an eerie and frightening Hitler-ian glow that is punctuated by Debra Hanson’s gorgeous Magritte inspired sets.

Standout performances by Ben Carlson (Touschtone), Lucy Peacock (Audrey), Andrea Rung (Rosalind), Paul Nolan (Orlando), and Brent Carver (Jacques) are beautifully clothed in costumes by Dana Osborne. Although strong, and appropriately infused with touches of military madness, the uniformly formal garb - with touches of casual panache - does not distinguish between some of the players as effectively as it might have. McAnuff’s and Osborne's articulation of Touchstone in particular - in a casual suit - does not give Carlson an adequate visual or physical framework for his engaging commentary on the comic/sardonic fool’s paradise his counterparts are meant to play in.

Nevertheless, with delightful jazz based musical moments by Justin Ellington, and a splendid setting for the gender bending antics to unfold, the current Stratford production gives Shakepseare’s classic court and kooky forest an appropriately complex playground for comedy, romance, and power hungry fascists to misbehave within.

at the Festival Theatre until October 31st







The current Soulpepper production of A Month In the Country is not to be missed. Turgenev’s classic Russian dramedy takes the subtle social comedy of Chekhovian delight and pushes the dramaturgical envelope into intergenerational titillation and high-spirited frolicking in a setting that could be your Kawartha Lakes neighbour’s country cottage or a summer camp for dysfunctional family units.

The contemporary translation by company member Susan Coyne, in collaboration with Hungarian master director Laszlo Marton, may seem awkward at times as it sports clearly Canadian/North American dialogue, and yet, in the hands of a superb cast the frequently formal phrasing and the long Russian names come trippingly from the tongue.

Costumes by Victoria Wallace and sets by Andrei Both support this action packed piece with a summery, causal offhand grace - replete with half a sports car jutting form a multi-doored back wall, working water hoses, heavenly hammocks, skateboards, and a delightfully devilish tire swing.

Fiona Byrne leads a superb ensemble as the complex and carnally induced Natalya. Diego Matmoros delivers a brilliant rendition of the wry and lovelorn Ratikin, while Jeff Lillico’s charismatic young student/tutor/multi-tasking paramour blends a perfect combination of mannerly shyness and youthful exuberance.

Nancy Palk, William Webster, and Joseph Ziegler give standout performances as their brief scenes of romantic misadventure possess an almost tableau-like performance art quality, setting them apart from the rest of the action and rendering the overall mise en scene quirky, complex, and utterly charming.

Too numerous to mention, the entire ensemble provides this timeless script with the complexity of emotion and raw physicality essential to a successful production of a script that could have easily become overly sentimental in the hands of a less physically inclined and sexually invigorated company of artists. On ‘holiday’ in the hands of a playful and dramaturgically proficient director the entire production team basks in the glow of mesmerizing midsummer madness.

Director Laszlo Marton has whipped his cast into a fun filled frenzy as they utilize every square inch of the stage with wild abandon, giving into, what Soulpepper Associate Artist Paula Wing so aptly calls, in her program notes, “the sudden, shocking, fierce experience of love: original, sometimes brutal and always unforgettable.”


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


the Soulpepper lab series production of The Cherry Orchard is visceral, physical, sexy, breathtaking and filled with thrillingly violent booming jazzy instrumental soundscapes - don't miss this amazing take on Chekhov's classic tale of belabored love, delayed lust, and death by champagne!

running at the Young Centre (Distillery District) until July11th

the cast is, well, um . . . gorgeous!!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



It is rare that one gets to see the perfect comedy and the perfect cast in action, on stage, and appearing to love very minute of their madcap ride through a classic Canadian script. I first saw David French’s Jitters in the seventies, when I was toddler (a twenty something toddler) and had such fond but vague memories of this riotous pay within a play about the adventures of a range of actors, at various stages in their careers, rehearsing a new Canadian play with the possibility of a Broadway production. The script is rife with references to the plight of even the most successful actors in this country who play the daily game of wondering if they will ever be able to move beyond the confining theatrical borders of a vast plot of land comprising a rather ‘small’ under populated nation. OHHHH Canada!!!!!! I could drink an icy keg of you!

The cast is impeccable. True to form, there is not a dull edge in the Soulpepper ensemble, showing audiences that English Canadian theatre has managed to indisputably prove itself within its own borders, and yet the struggle for international recognition remains a timely message.

Diane D’Aquila’s Jessica brings the strength, compassion and vigor needed for the role of a struggling diva that can lash out at her detractors as well as embrace fledgling neophyte thespians as they test their wings. All loveable divas, the actors playing actors playing stage managers and technicians in the show include Oliver Dennis’ wonderfully idiosyncratic Phil, Kevin Bundy’s sympathetic micro-managing George, C. David Johnson ‘s unruly, self-doubting Patrick, Jordan Pettle’s subtly fey and sexy stage managing Nick, Sarah Wilson’s sweetly sly Peggy, Abena Malika’s provocative and playful Susi, Noah Reid’s marvelous youthful male diva intent on a fabulous film career, and Mike Ross’s delightful comic take on the nerve shattered playwright watching his script take a roller coaster ride through the varied and demanding personalities of a group of somewhat terrified, frequently confident and colliding actors.

Ted Dykstra’s direction infuses this lengthy two intermisssion’ed, 2 and a half hour piece with an utterly engaging, breakneck, and lighthearted breeze that wafts through the theatre filling our hearts and minds with mostly comedy and lots of thought-provoking innuendo that makes us proud - and nervous - to be Canuckian.

Sets and costumes by Patrick Clark possess a fabulous 70’s Brady Bunch quality and the act two backstage environment reveals a number of subtly integrated tributes to past, present, and ongoing Canadian theatre luminaries such as Bill Glassco and Mallory Gilbert - scribbled on the walls of the ramshackle dressing room with the pivotal faulty lavatory door.

This is a must see this summer at Soulpepper. Jitters takes stereotypical Canadian identity and turns it on its head, revealing just how polite, loving, enraged, talented, and truly hilarious we can be when we find ourselves in yet another escapade of international import.

Jitters runs at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District until June 24th

Monday, July 5, 2010



Soulpepper’s Lab Series presents The Cherry Orchard

Toronto, ON – June 7, 2010 – Albert SchultzAlbert Schultz, Founding Artistic Director of Soulpepper Theatre Company, today

announced the second off ering of the company’s Lab Series - Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Soulpepper’s

Lab Series provides the company’s artists and audience an opportunity to share in the creative process by

experiencing together various approaches to theatrical storytelling.

Under the guidance of director Daniel BrooksDaniel Brooks, the artists of the Soulpepper Academy: Ins Choi,Ins Choi, Tatjana CornijTatjana Cornij, Raquel Duff yRaquel Duff y, Ken MacKenzieKen MacKenzie, Gregory PrestGregory Prest, Karen RaeKaren Rae, Jason Patrick RotheryJason Patrick Rothery and Brendan Wall Brendan Wall culminate a year-long journey of discovery of one of the seminal texts of the Western Canon.

Brooks and the AcademyAcademy‚ have constructed a condensed version of The Cherry Orchard to fully explore Chekhov’s

profoundly rich tapestry of text and create theatre that challenges and entertains. This exploration of The Cherry

Orchard is also meant to inspire the AcademyAcademy and give them techniques and ideas they can apply to the analysis

and activation of any text. Brooks chose The Cherry Orchard because of its superb text that demands (and rewards)

rigorous exploration and for its timeliness - a family in fi nancial crisis, a mortgage they cannot pay and a way of

life under threat.

The Cherry Orchard runs July 1 - 10 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, located at 55 Mill Street, Building

49, in the Distillery Historic District. Tickets are $20 plus HST and are available by visiting or

by calling the Young Centre box offi ce at 416.866.8666.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Three very different plays currently running in repertory at Soulpepper offer up diverse theatre experiences ranging from corrupt real estate agents to war widows and faith healers. John Murrell’s classic Canadian drama Waiting For the Parade sports an all female cast that creates a superb ensemble of characters warring with themselves and each other as they try to support their men overseas. Led by Nancy Palk as the very stern no nonsense Margaret, all five women deliver superb performances. Palk’s performance never falters as she moves toward her dramatic resolution with great dignity and style. Krystin Pellerin, of current television fame (Republic of Doyle), gives a delightfully lighthearted performance tinged with sadness and indecision as Eve, while Deborah Drakeford’s Janet provides a strong organizational force that the others simultaneously follow and resist. Fiona Byrne’s Marta, as the lone German/Canadian citizen, stands out as a strong, resourceful woman struggling to fit into a decidedly hostile and war torn national landscape, while Michelle Monteith’s Catherine shines as the restless young bride finding it difficult to resist the opportunities that her temporary status as a single woman offers her. The whole cast shines in frequent musical moments, and Fiona Byrne’s German songs are beautifully rendered, heartfelt citations to Marta’s national origins. Murrell’s play examines Canada’s contribution to the second world war with a sharp eye for the material realities women had to face, and endures as Canadian classic after more than thirty years.

David Mamet’s Glengarry Ross is a fast paced all male narrative that is brought to life by a powerful ensemble led by Soulpepper Artistic Director Albert Schultz. His swaggering and sexy take on the character of Richard Roma is an impressive outpouring of run on dialogue that Shcultz peals off with great finesse. The rest of the cast is equally at ease with Mamet’s densely detailed script. Ken MacDonald’s set is particularly effective as it moves from a crowded Chinese restaurant, replete with chalkboard menu items and prices looming over the banquettes in act one, followed by a seamless movement into the real estate office that utilizes a similar décor in order to establish specific realtor data.

Perhaps the most unusual of the three plays currently running at Soulpepper is Brian Friel’s four-tiered monologic play for three actors. Stuart Hughes as the faith healer presents a believable, slightly sleazy, always energetic title character, with Brenda Robins as his altruistic paramour who takes on the second monologue of the evening with great physical endurance and passion. Diego Matamoros as the manager of this dubious form of ‘entertainment’ - faith healing - delivers an impeccable performance as he opens act two with Friels incredibly quirky monologue that ranges from the truly campy section on talking to pigeons and managing whippets and poodles, to profoundly disturbing sections regarding the relationship between Teddy (Hughes) and Grace (Robins). Ken MacDonald’s set is a beautiful sculptural mélange of piled chairs and wood slat walls that is pleasing at the outset but becomes a little static early into the proceedings. This dense, monologue ridden work could stand with a little more movement and energy in the set pieces in order to liberate the actors from a very heavy-handed text. Nevertheless, the strong performances, and the mystery narrative that unravels throughout, makes for an extremely intriguing evening of theatre.

all three plays are running in repertory at the Young Centre (Distillery District)

Faith Healer until June 4th

Glengarry Glen Ross -to June 5th

Waiting For the Parade - to May 29th




First produced in London and LA in 1998, with a Toronto production at Factory Theatre later the same year, Featuring Loretta is a delightfully bizarre little romp through the sordid lives of a few rather desperate young heterosexuals trying to sort out their respective traumas within the confines of a motel room. Written by Geroge F. Walker, one of Canada’s pre-eminent playwrights, the play was conceived as part of a six part series entitled Suburban Motel (1997).

With hundreds of productions worldwide and extensive translations of his work, Walker has blazed a formidable trail in Canadian theatre history. The current production of Featuring Loretta, at first glance, appears to be a bit of a red herring in the context of Walker’s fast paced comic oeuvre. Considered by some to be the weakest of the six part series, there is in fact something deceptively pleasing about this simple tale of a woman’s struggle to maintain her identity among manipulative boyfriends, philandering dead husbands who have been eaten by bears, and a booking agent who wants to exploit Loretta’s body.

Ken Gass’s direction sustains rollicking breakneck pacing as the actors deliver physically charged performances, moving furniture around in a very creative, at times fourth wall-breaking manner. Lesley Faulkner’s Loretta is sexy and assertive, providing subtle layers for what could have lapsed into a ditsy bewildered stereotype. But Faulkner’s Loretta never falters in her quest to create strong boundaries between herself and disruptive forces ranging from family members to absent KGB agents. In short, she is on the threshold of a life-changing event and is making one final stab at creating a secure environment for herself and the responsibilities she faces - without the interference of well-meaning morons.

Kevin Hanchard as the booking agent creates a subtle sleaziness with fine comic delivery that provides a sympathetic edge to his character. Similarly, Brandon McGibbon’s Dave, the present boyfriend, creates an appropriately goofy charm that simultaneously disarms, annoys, and engages in a skilful and believable manner. And when McGibbon and Hanchard engage in physical struggle over Loretta it takes on a refreshing homoerotic tone that subverts the dominant heterosexual narrative and proves to be utterly enchanting. The surrounding players are all there in order to feature Loretta, and as an ensemble they do this in a multi-layered manner that has a couple of titillating underwear scenes that raise the stakes and move this bedroom farce of into an evening of diverse comic entertainment.

Monica Dottor’s Sophie could have easily portrayed the Russian maid with stereotypical fervor, so common these days on television in prime time spots such as Desperate Housewives. And yet she skilfully manages to make the character both comic and sympathetic, without teetering into a disturbing caricature in any way. When the booking agent displays interest in her as a stripper/porn star one can actually imagine his intentions as something distantly akin to romance, and not simply a pornographic voyeuristic act.

Featuring Loretta is a timely and somewhat retrospective critique of misogyny, and the ways in which women have been commodified by particular forms of representation and entertainment. The final moments of this ‘light’ comedy possess a harrowing tone through the expertise of Jeremy Mimnagh’s video and sound design, Marian Wihak’s set, Kimberly Purtell’s lighting, and David Boechler’s costumes - providing powerful punctuation for a very simple and direct statement about one woman’s route towards independence.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

review of Catalyst Theatre's Frankenstein



Catalyst theatre’s gorgeous production of Frankenstein, currently running at the Bluma Appel theatre, is worth seeing for the set and costumes alone. And once they iron out some of the technical problems that seemed to plague opening night, it may become an admirable and visually exciting spectacle to behold, for the first few minutes. Unfortunately the lighting expertise that should have catapulted Bretta Garecke’s breathtaking paper sets and costumes into a world of chaotic shadow and muted colours is understated in a disappointing and rather lifeless way, while Jonathan Christenson’s score takes a similar turn, and punctuates too many rhyming couplets with a monotonous often techno sounding beat that appears ghoulish and ominous at the beginning but becomes irritating early into the first act. Skilled singers are unable to rise above the dull manufactured sounds that punctuate the beginnings and ends of lines and whole stanzas, weighing down what might have been a collection of diverse musical tableaus and producing a shallow cornucopia of somewhat bland recitative.


Reminiscent of the engaging and darkly humourous tales of Edward Gorey, and the more recent trash operas of the Tiger Lillies (Shockheaded Peter and The Gorey End), this lavish production has some fine moments, but lags due to repetition and some weak performances. A cast of eight very competent performers taking on multiple roles is impressive at the outset. However, over time their voices become strained and unmemorable as they blur into a rather bland mélange of sung storytelling that forsakes characterization for the sake of too much unnecessary description. Herein lies the problem with the script. Although Mary Shelley’s original story shines through in all its allegorical layers, the Catalyst production spends too much time telling the linear, familial details of the tale rather than enacting them. At least fifteen to twenty minutes could be cut from the first act followed by a much shorter second act.


There are some standout performances such as the gorgeous, at times tremolo inflected voices of the lead female performers - Tracy Penner as Lucy and Nancy Mcalear as Justine are engaging and intricately drawn in their roles. Dov Mickelson also has some wonderful moments as Young William as he takes possession of a very odd character and makes him a truly ghoulish and sympathetic misfit. But the choral moments never quite gel and the frequent bursts of repetitive spoken word chanting render the overall production a bit of an eclectic, overly ambitious hodgepdoge of theatrical mishaps.


Despite the production’s many problems Catalyst should be commended for taking on such an ambitious project and rendering it in an exciting and unique style. The current production, for all intents and purposes, looks like a very good early workshop production of a promising new spectacle.



running at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 29th