Saturday, November 19, 2011



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

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

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

Michael Hollingsworth

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Running at Factory Theatre until December 11th





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

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

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

Judith Butler ‘Decking Out: Performing Identities’

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 12, 2011


(top) Ron Kennell with ensemble (bottom) Stephanie Belding

Theatre Gargantua’s current production of Imprints, running at the Factory Studio Theatre, is an impressive piece of multi-disciplinary theatre that features the physical skill of a variety of artists making their way through a complex meditation on illness and family heritage. Projection design by Cameron Davis is especially intriguing as faces appear and disappear on unexpected screens ranging from a white wall of smoke to the face of one of the lead performers. Sheree Tam's costumes are a fantastical mix of playful and threateningly nebulous forms, while lighting by Laird Macdonald and sound by Michael Laird and William Falcon fill the intimate studio theatre playing space with a shadowy ambient mood perfecty suited to this dream-like journey.

Stephanie Belding provides great physical agility and an emotional range that is well suited to her pivotal role, while Ron Kennell’s demonic figure thrills with sudden appearances from beginning to end, demonstrating his skill for intense and effective characterization. Conor Green, Kat Sandler, Cosette Derome, and Michael Spence round out the ensemble with impressive vocal and physical agility that manages to make spoken interaction, coupled with complex set movements, appear seamless and fluid. Conor Green, in particular, interacts with Belding’s central narrative ‘victim’ in an intriguing and amorous way that adds engaging narrative force to the overall piece.

Michael Spence’s script is laced with an entertaining mixture of melodramatic, arch interaction by a variety of fantastical characters, contrasted frequently by a kind of wry comic realism as some of the players take the high melodrama of the language and respond to it with a very subtly delivered dry wit that brings the narrative into a sharp, contemporary focus. A later scene rises to an almost Shakespearean, Romeo and Juliet level as Green and Belding interact in a finely tuned romantic clutch, directed with an impressive attention to intimate physical detail and emotional nuance by Jacquie P.A. Thomas. This instance exemplifies one of the most effective and simple moments of technical brilliance as a large black sheet, manipulated skillfully by the performers, provides an expressive setting for the story to unfold within.

Although physically exciting and textually thought provoking throughout, the hour long narrative does tend to become repetitive and somewhat too circular at times, and could stand with more detailed segments delineating, in a creative manner, some of the genetic theory that grounds the initial idea regarding ‘imprints’ and the ways in which illness, genetic make-up, and family interaction can coalesce into profound eye opening experiences provoking fear, love and laughter in the most unexpected places. This circular tendency in the script, depending too much upon sharp, familiar expository moments, instead of new narrative details, renders some segments all spectacular technical prowess coupled with too little meaty narrative content. But there are many engaging moments that could be strengthened by more layered dialogue.

A simple beach scene at the end provides a final, beautiful moment of technical expertise, and brings the familial journey full circle with both an ending and a beginning of a story happening simultaneously - an ending that might have been rendered more enthralling had it contained a little more textual intimacy and relied less upon a predictable exchange that, despite narrative shortfall, provides a somewhat moving and visually stunning finale for this interrogation of bodies grappling with complex issues surrounding mortality, memory, and modern genetic possibility.

Imprints runs at the Factory Studio Theatre until November 26th


Friday, November 11, 2011



Heather Cassils, Alicia Grant, Dominic Johnson, Dana Michel, Kitty Neptune and the Pole Club, & Mary Cobie


'Commitment Issues'

"Let these be the languages spoken by bodies: to laugh, to cry, to suspend oneself otherwise through acts of perseverance and devotion, poised on the knife-edge of a permanent scream"

November 16th, 2011 a group of internationally acclaimed performance artists will come together in an historic Toronto location to entertain and enlighten us about our bodies and the complex ways in which we commit ourselves to various social, physical, and cultural structures. Taking a queer perspective on the idea of ‘commitment,’ and the various ways in which the word can be perceived, the evening promises to be an exciting interrogation of alternative, provocative, and proactive views of our bodies and our selves in a global environment that increasingly puts the emphasis upon impersonal technological forms of intimacy that feign a kind of intimate encounter yet move us further away form actual bodies, actual commitments, and actual intimacies, than ever before.

And what better place to stage this sexy and exciting venture than the former site of the historic Club Baths, now a fabulous playground for swinging singles called Oasis Aqualounge. So don’t miss this amazing event!


‘Committed to Cleanliness’

1979 - my first visit to a bathhouse

Ethel Merman is belting out showtunes to a disco beat

I wander the halls looking for a close encounter of the queer kind

marking the beginning of a lifelong commitment to casual sex

I was making a heartfelt promise to promiscuity.

1981 - ‘Operation Soap’ - four Toronto bath houses raided

the arrest of 300 men

Margaret Atwood defends the baths publicly

a new era in gay and lesbian politics is born

the Club Baths, after a prolonged and costly legal battle

carries on for two decades as a gay male bath house

2000 - the Club Baths becomes the site of the lesbian Pussy Palace event

which is raided by Toronto police consisting of almost all male police officers

2010 - the Club Baths closes and Oasis Aqualounge opens later that year

2011 - November 16th - the Oasis Aqualounge, in existence for over a year, as an erotic playground for ‘swingers,’ hosts Commitment Issues


November 16th, 2011, marks a very special event in the ongoing commitment to one of Toronto’s oldest and most erogenous zones. Toronto Performance artist Jess Dobkin, the curator of Commitment Issues, has organized what promises to be a truly subversive evening that will include the work of five internationally known performers who will occupy various areas of a three floor Victorian mansion, providing spectators with an exciting program of site specific work ranging from steam rooms, to locker areas, hot tubs, swimming pools, and an actual rehearsal, supervised by Toronto artist Kitty Neptune, by a group committed to the art of pole dancing.


Dobkin describes the event as a kind of interrogation of the use of the word ‘commitment’ and the ways in which the queer community, despite interventions from homophobic sources, has taken part in very committed social, cultural, and political forms over the years. In her curatorial statement she talks about commitment as -

an exceptional word, often used in varying and oppositional contexts . . . an expression of agency and autonomy . . . a state of consignment or confinement wherein liberty is denied. We might commit to a relationship or to winning the big game, but we can also be committed to prison or a mental institution.”

In an era of same sex marriage when opposing fronts defend and question the need for legal commitment to what has been, for eons, a largely heterosexual privilege/ commitment, the artists Dobkin has brought together will provide a timely commentary upon the ways in which we relate to one another as continually evolving queer bodies. Located in a venue that has been attacked historically for its commitment to basic sexual freedom, Commitment Issues represents an exciting development in the history of queer body politics. Artists will explore a variety of areas ranging from Dana Michel’s Jack, a movement piece as a form of discipline and ritual, to the transgenderd experience of Heather Cassil’s Teresias, pushing her body to extremes that interrogate “issues of social power and control.”

The event can be viewed as a spectator sport wherein audiences meander through an intriguing spectacle with the option/possibility of interaction, and as Dobkin urges at the beginning of her curatorial statement -

Locker and towel service provided.

Bring your bathing suit or birthday suit.

For real.

Commitment Issues: An Evening of Performance Art

Wednesday November 16, 7-10 pm (featuring 6 performances over 3 hours)

Oasis Aqualounge, 231 Mutual Street, Toronto

$15 admission / $12 students/seniors/underemployed

Admission restricted to patrons 19+ years of age

Processing: Artists’ Panel & Reception
Thursday November 17, 7:00-9:30 pm Studio Theatre

University of Toronto

4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto

FREE / open to al

Monday, November 7, 2011



There is a freshness and comic grace to the way in which Peter Chin inhabits a stage, qualities that infuse his work with a grand mixture of intellect and theatrical flair, giving his choreography, and the narratives contained within, a bright, bubbling brilliance, sprinkled with moments of sheer elegance. These qualities, through the presence of Chin himself, open his most recent creation and never falter from beginning to end.

Through a mixture of astute cultural self-awareness and scrutiny, Fluency, as a kind of self-parody of Chin’s own experience as a cultural tourist of sorts, never takes itself too seriously, and by doing so delivers a very serious and a very entertaining piece of dance theatre that flirts with the notion of the viability and significance of the artist within a complex global environment. A mixture of video images, projected text, and mock interviews lend a triumphant brand of eclecticism to the work, and enlighten audiences regarding the actual mechanics of being an artist in a world often overwhelmed by technology, diplomacy, and the fine art of keeping one’s art alive, well, and funded.

At the heart of the piece is a fervent desire to actually embody the cultural and emotional depths that Chin has attempted to interrogate in his career as a dancer/theatre artist who gives himself completely to each new physical and emotional narrative that he encounters. Chin’s artistic team rises to the challenge of bringing this multicultural vision into sharp focus as they all skillfully take on the intricate, nuanced movements that Chin himself enacts throughout, providing a consistent stylistic motif that holds the overall work together as a beautiful mélange of various dance theatre forms.

Alison Denham, Billy Marchenski, and Maria Constanza Guzmán bring a strength of character to roles that run the gamut from impassioned academic, engaged dancer striving to bring the choreographer’s vision to life, and self-aggrandizing television host who consistently injects cultural arrogance into the mix. By placing themselves within this complex narrative in a variety of physical and textual vignettes, they become an extension of Chin’s vision as they subtly relate their movement to his intellect and his physical presence. Marchenski, in particular, brings a superb blend of acting and agile, fluid physicality together as he embodies the most parodic character of the bunch with his quirky asides and physical innuendo as the ever editorializing talk show host.

Ultimately, the idea of ‘becoming Nicaraguan,’ the central catch phrase of the piece, reveals multitudes about an ever evolving global village, and the ways in which we relate to each other on an ongoing basis as citizens of a world moving too quickly to contain us all within one viable setting. Elements of parody, dance, theatre and cultural theory fluently inhabit Fluency in a truly enlightening, thought provoking, and entertaining manner.

Fluency ran at the Enwave Theare- Harborfront, November 3-5, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011



Eight Ways From Mara, Zata Omm’s current dance project, being presented at the Enwave Theatre (Harbourfront) until October 23rd, is an ambitious seventy-minute tour de force led by dancer/choreographer William Yong. What begins as a rather stark, somewhat bewildering mélange of physicality that plays with daily bodily rhythms from group walking and running to human sculptural tableaus, gradually moves into a glorious and meticulous series of tableau vivant come to life. About ten to fifteen minutes into the evening, once the somewhat plodding introduction has ended, a flurry of activity emerges that thoroughly engages the audience through an eclectically philosophical and technically infused narrative.

Concise, perfectly blended textual moments by Hume Baugh mix seamlessly with complex and intricate lighting design by Rebecca Picherak, and large evocative video performance and imagery from Elysha Poirier. There is a cool vivacious energy that runs throughout and treats spectators to a Beckett like search for truth and wisdom. By turning ideas of ‘God’ and spiritual truth into a frequently joyful canine love story, Yong gives us a non-linear narrative as comical and as poignant as a classic Lassie tale.

Andrea Rocca’s eclectic soundscapes - ranging from techno-fied Barry White moments, to an eerie and whimsical piece reminiscent of big band staples such as Sing Sing Sing and Big Noise from Winnetka - enliven the final sections with a tremendous form of original pastiche that brings the evening to a subtle and circular finale. The ending, however, is needlessly reminiscent of an introductory group pose that might have been reconsidered as a time consuming, unengaged, and superfluous framing device that doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the onstage action. Nevertheless, the overall experience, inspired by Eastern Philosophy’s use of Mara, the demon of temptation, creates beautiful images throughout, and offers a gorgeous same sex coupling, a fabulous ensemble bathing suit sequence, as well as a brilliant solo by William Yong.

Yong’s solo highlights the dancer’s willowy agility, and reveals his approach to the body as a fabulous receptacle for unexpected physical contortions. Yong has the ability to produce the startling effect of great simplicity, power, and impeccable timing in each fluid movement. Likewise, dancers Heather Berry-MacPhail, Kate Franklin, Erika Leigh- Howard, and Nicholas Melymuk execute the same kind of willowy grace and muscularity that Yong creates in his solo. This tightly conceived physical thread produces a truly collaborative effort that gives Yong’s choreography an exciting gender blurred motif, defying divisions between masculinity and femininity, and placing the dancers in single and group settings that defy traditional roles. This allows for the two men and three women to create a kind of loves labors gained storyline that effectively evokes powerful and graceful images addressing a rapidfire progression in contemporary culture that subtly, yet radically alters the nature of temptation, desire, and the ways in which we interact with mediums that are simultaneously spiritual, romantic, and technological.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


a seamless program of beautifully placed new work

Four exciting and boldly athletic new dance pieces are currently being premiered at the Fleck Dance Theatre by Proartedanza. This one hundred minute tour de force features magnificent choreography and breathtaking dancing that becomes a seamless and enthralling marriage of music and movement.

The North American premiere of Robert Glumbek’s Verwoben (2008) was inspired by “the concept of intertwining or weaving together . . . in response to music, human interaction and surrounding conditions.” Dancers Marc Cardarelli, Mami Hata, and Brendan Wyatt implement these complex movements, to Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in A-Minor, with an intricate and breathtaking finesse. In the context of the overall program to follow, the music stands out as perhaps the most traditional, at times belying the fluid, knot-like movement that brings the dancers into a variety of startling configurations that a single same sex coupling literally lifts and carries bodies in and out of. On its own the piece works beautifully as a kind of post-modern semi- balletic study. In the context of the entire evening, it whets the appetite for the very bold and explosive pieces to follow, and stands alone as a beautiful classical inflected piece of choreography. Judiciously placed at the beginning of the evening, Glumbek’s piece excels as a grand titillating preview for the explosive mix of music and choreography to follow.

En Parallèle (2011 - Toronto premiere), choreographed by Proartedanza’s Artistic Director Roberto Campanella, initiates what becomes, over the course of the next hour, a startling at times staccato evening of bodies and dance that embody a truly seamless and stimulating mélange of sound and corporeal image. Dancers Tyler Gledhill and Marissa Parzei create a stunning “universe controlled by fixed physical laws” in a sharply nuanced “encounter [that] hinges on a fleeting moment and absolute blind chance.” The fleeting quality of the movement and the ‘blind’ desire of the tonal gestures brings the duo together in vivid, detached images that separate and commingle throughout, giving the piece a simultaneous sense of both attraction and division, filling the stage with a wonderful sense of individual skill and a kind of contemporary pas de deux. Music by Jóhan Jóhannsson and Marc Mellits provides a wonderfully ambient environment for the fleeting blindness that the narrative embraces.

Pearline (2011), by Kevin O’Day, another North American Premiere, utilizes to incredible effect, the music of Son House, an American blues singer and guitarist who pioneered an innovative style featuring strong, repetitive rhythms, frequently played with the aid of a slide guitar. House’s music often incorporated elements of spiritual and southern gospel that influenced artists Bonnie Raitt, Robert Johnson, and John Hammond, among others. With the support of a very unique and eclectic lyrical soundscape, this is perhaps the most seamless offering of the evening as it represents a truly startling and enigmatic sense of music and dance as they move abruptly in and out of each other. Moments of silence combined with bodies that merge into the musicians innovative and evocative rhythms in an exciting manner, reveal both body and sound as inseparable. Through the impeccable timing, delightful comic innuendo, and the very impressive skill of dancers Mami Hata and Louis Laberge-Côté Pearline brings both grand pathos and light humour to the stage.

The world premiere of Guilluame Côté’s Fractals: a pattern of chaos is beautifully placed as it represents, in the context of the whole program, a volatile culmination of diverse yet complimentary choreography. An ensemble of eight dancers* present a truly eclectic cornucopia of sharp, gestural bravado that moves from a sense of Bob Fosse chorus line tableau to comic, almost Stomp-like finesse, never lapsing into what could have been a kind of laborious kitsch citation. The piece continues the program’s unerring mix of music and choreography as they blend seamlessly. An electronic score by Canadian composer Venetian Snares is the pitch perfect accompaniment for this utterly enthralling climax. Côté’s artistry possesses a deceptively symmetrical framework that brings his dance narrative full circle as bodies represent that elusive and gorgeous natural ‘fractal’ phenomenon of “snowflakes, flowers or cloud” as they mingle in “strict order and unpredictable influence.”

Both strict order and unpredictable influence are the hallmarks of this exciting evening of choreography, running at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre until October 8th.

* Johanna Bergfeit, Valerie Calam, Marc Cardarelli, Tyler Gledhill, Mama Hata, Louis Laberge-Côté, Ryan Lee, Marissa Parzei (Oct 5,8), Erin Poole (Oct 6,7)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Bigger Than Jesus is a sexy, engaging and charismatic portrait of a white guy who thinks he’s Jesus, or at least someone who has a lot of fascinating information that tends to dispel the myth of the son of God and locate him somewhere within a chaotic contemporary landscape replete with pop-culture puppet shows starring Homer Simpson and assorted characters from Star Wars. Rick Miller’s collaboration with Daniel Brooks, currently running at The Factory Theatre, is a one man tour de force that shines with both technical brilliance and intellectual intrigue. Miller, in the title role as a larger than life solo artist intent upon shedding light on religious fervor, is one of those performers whose vocal diversity and physical presence makes it difficult to miss a beat of his virtuoso perofrmance as he takes over the stage with the zeal of a lithe thespian demi-god.

Perhaps the most memorable moments occur when Miller simultaneously sings a parodic version of a song from Jesus Christ Superstar as he manipulates a variety of tiny plastic figurines being projected behind him on a large screen. The incredible technical effects make this show into a fine example of mutli-media performance art. This is a re-mount of an award-winning must-see with a slightly disappointing religious message at the end that punctuates the demystifying discourse in a rather Christianized hegemonic way. But the ride all the way to the temple is well worth the slight anti-climax.

running at Factory Theatre until October 9th


Soulpeppers’ re-mount of The Odd Couple is a strangely funny study in heterosexual coupling. Neil Simon’s 1965 Broadway hit ages relatively well as one-liners abound and strained conjugal relations take centre stage with the husbands in full regalia and the wives decidedly absent. Albert Schultz as Oscar and Diego Matamoros as Felix match each other with pitch perfect comic difference as this unlikely ‘queer’ couple reveal, in their mismatched bickering, that all relationships, same sex or opposite, can be privy to emotions and contradictions that simultaneously make the individuals involved both the perfect and the imperfect duo. Playing at the same time as Noel Coward’s Private Lives , Soulpepper and Mirvish Productions gives Toronto audiences the chance to compare notes on the writing of two vastly different playwrights who have used comedy in order to show the gaps, the differences, and the commonalities within personalities that are thrown together, and how these personalities frequently test the limits of camaraderie, love, and friendship despite the fact that they simply cannot live without each other.

running at The Young Centre (Distillery District) through October

see review of Private Lives online at In Toronto magazine


In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play is a hilarious and poetic dramedy that explores the emotional and physical separations that occur between individuals who, given half a chance, may find the intestinal fortitude to actually crawl out from under sexual taboos and ultimately enjoy the fleshy nooks and crannies of each others bodies, rather than resorting to detached, mechanical eroticism that stands in for what they seem to truly desire. But on their way toward actual human coupling of the hot and heavy kind they find an ample substitute within the historical origins of the ever popular vibrator.

David Storch and Trish Lindstrom provide impeccable physical and vocal contrasts to each other as the repressed husband and the sexually ambitious wife. Marci T. House is a wonderful study in mannered, dignified servitude in the role of the nanny who becomes the somewhat hesitant surrogate mother-figure and the objectified muse of an attractive and intrusive artist. Melody A. Johnson’s Sabrina Daldry takes the stage in the form of a prim yet highly eroticized and empowered character, while Jonathan Watton’s marginalized artist character Leo quirkily and frantically reveals the sexual stereotypes and the sexual confines constructed between genders and alternative lifestyles.

Elizabeth Saunders as Annie has truly poignant moments as she allows her character to move seamlessly from the ever faithful medical assistant to the unsuspecting and misled paramour in a wonderfully comic and tender same sex stage moment. Ross MacMillan as Mr. Daldry has a beautifully awkward scene as the irritated husband who boldly misreads the sexual presence of a friend attempting to find her own sexuality within a deceptively sexless environment. Richard Rose's nuanced and physically complex direction brings all of these strained mortal collisions into perfect physical and emotional focus.

And the vibrator scenes are hilarious as sets, costumes, and props by David Boechler provide a truly beautiful, faintly bawdy, and utterly quirky period setting for Sarah Ruhl’s provocative and thought provoking play to blossom, to penetrate, and to climax within.

running at Tarragon until October 23rd

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Expect Theatre's glorious production of 'AWAKE' !!!

written & directed by Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley, Artistic Directors of Expect Theatre

The recent production of AWAKE, produced at the Toronto Fringe Festival, was a moving and ultimately exhilarating journey through a series of stories based on the experiences of people living in Toronto’s Jameston/Rexdale area. Inspired by the 2005 killing of Amon Beckles, shot in a church during a funeral service, the play relies upon a series of narratives recalling events leading up to the moment of violence. One very telling moment early on subtly reveals late twentieth-century socio-economic developments that contribute to the creation of a community of people disenfranchised by a racialized past, and present, that once appeared, on the surface, to be hopeful and filled with promise.

A lot of these townhouse complexes were built back in the 60s, back when everybody was um, American families, you know what I mean. It would all be young families, men work, wife at home with a couple kids, everybody's kids playing, it just must have been utopia.

Part of the power of the recent production can be attributed to the incredible site-specific nature of the surroundings. Set in the midst of a funeral, the Fringe venue was the Walmer Baptist Church, set on the edge of a traffic roundabout with a serene parkette commemorating the life of Canadian poet Gwendolyn McEwen as an urban centre piece. On the memorial plaque below the bust of McEwen, an excerpt from one of her poems makes an indirect and poignant connection to the play’s tragic yet life-affirming narrative.

But it is never over; nothing ends until we want it to.

Look, in shattered midnights,

On black ice under silver trees,

we are still dancing, dancing.

Meet me in an hour at the limits of the city.

Despite the great sense of tragedy of losing family members to gang violence, AWAKE never loses a powerful sense of hope and spirituality that infuses the piece from start to finish. Led by the powerful, encouraging words of a member of the clergy presiding over the funeral (played with convincing fervor by Richard Stewart), the play moves in and out of the church setting through vivid tableau scenes that depict moments from the lives of the young men being mourned. Gospel music and hip hop enhance each story and each tableau with a pervasive strength that moves the work to its surprisingly joyous climax.

The ten artists who comprise the ensemble cast are flawless as they collaborate in a multi-disciplinary manner through the use of stylized movement, dance, song, and impressive acting skill. Ultimately, the stories are brought to life through the eyes of mothers trying to deal with the unimaginable loss of a child, and the complex socio-economic events that conspire to trap innocent young people within a cycle of violence and crime.

Quancetia Hamilton and Beryl Bain as the two mothers deliver strong, layered, versatile performances, assisted by the amazing collaborative work of Tazz Blaze (dancer), Raffaele Brereton (dancer), Lauren Brotman (actor), Muoi Nene (actor), Peyson Rock (actor), Richard Stewart (actor), David Shelley (actor), URV (singer/rapper). Writers/directors Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley have assembled a cast and a production team that were able to inhabit a gorgeous old Church in an affluent neighbourhood and blow the roof off of the layers of society that AWAKE attempts to peel away in order to expose the roots of the problems people face when confronted with extreme poverty.

The intricately staged, verbatim interviews that are the foundation of a script taken from hundreds of hours of recordings, represents a detailed and significant tribute to young lives lost, and the family members and friends who move forward despite the disheartening situations they live within.

The final lines attest to this great sense of survival within a community ravaged by violent crime.

What I enjoyed the most was the way everybody was able to get up and be free. If you wanted to cry, you cried. But most of us, by the time the funeral service was over, nobody had a tear in their eye. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want it to be too sad. It was sad enough, these young people didn’t need to bury that much pain.

As the audience filed out of the Church, a sense of displacement, and a form of conflicted, bittersweet peace filled the air. Considering the final lines from MacEwen’s poem (Latesong), as they suggest a tragic rupture, mixed with a beautiful, elegiac quality that attempts to bring disparate social and emotional narratives together as a way of bringing powerful stories to wider audiences:

When it is all over---the crying and the dancing and the long

exhausting music--- I will remember only

How once you flirted with your death and lifted your dark eyes

to warn me of the world’s end

As wild leaves fell, and midnight crashed upon the city.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


The current production of The Cherry Orchard at the Guild Festival Theatre is a truly unique outdoor experience. Elegant costumes by Bonnie Deakin and atmospheric lighting by Amanda Gougeon provide crisp characterization against the moody grays of an imposing background replete with grand sculpted arches and spectacular chiseled columns. Scenic design (consultation) by Troy Hourie, comprised of pieces of antique furniture set sparingly across the playing space, floats in a kind of classical Greek milieu as Sten Eirik’s direction provides a lively, fast paced spectacle that brings the essence of Chekhov’s pastoral bourgeois drama to life. The Russian playwright's particular brand of dramaturgy runs the risk of becoming a slow moving dirge if it is not directed with an ear to the highs and lows of panicked family members going through a myriad of emotions once threatened with the loss of their ancestral home. Eirik has found a lovely balance between light comedy and class-based tragedy, essential to the success of Chekhov’s lyrical interrogations of the demise of a decidedly aristocratic way of life. Music by David Buchbinder gives the overall production a subtle melodramatic tone that suits the grand setting and provides the production with a powerful ambience.

Dawna Wightman as Lyubov leads a cast that shines as they blend a form of flighty comic realism with lilting playful physicality that has them cavorting around a gorgeous outdoor space that was originally assembled in the 1960s from pieces of old Toronto buildings about to be torn down. This curiously bedecked setting provides the perfect environment for a play about a family who are rapidly losing their sense of history and have assembled one last time in a futile, yet loving attempt to hold what is left of their heritage, and their class structure, together. John Jarvis as Gaev injects a kind of careless paternalism into the cast and portrays the perennial billiard-playing brother with great physical agility and a wonderful stylish vocal delivery. Jesse Dwyre's student matches Jarvis’ thespian skill with a variety of studied and engaging moments of romantic play and political aspiration.

Wightman is superb as Lyubov as she mixes a happy go lucky, scattered quality with a form of altruistic passion that culminates in powerful and moving speeches defining her great attachment to a home and a past she can never fully retrieve, yet longs for through a form of traumatized melancholia. Paul Amato’s Lopahkin complements Wigthman’s performance as he coddles, persuades, and finally surrenders to her double-edged frivolity in a way that ultimately self-satisfies his own great business acumen. Rounded out by consistently delightful performances by Kanika Ambrose, Linzee Barclay, Tamera Broczkowski, Melissa Haddad, Stephen McLarty, James Patrick Pettitt, Bryan Stanish and James R. Woods, the large ensemble cast manages to bring the intricate plot and characters to full fruition as they move toward the end of an era in Russian history, represented in Chekhov’s drama by a single family’s attempt to tie up loose ends before they go their separate ways. Perhaps the most memorable performance comes from Bryan Stanish as Firs, the long suffering, somewhat senile manservant who represents all that is left behind by the rather chaotic ramblings of a family and a social hierarchy in ruins. His performance punctuates the pathos that runs through the narrative as he skillfully fumbles through the maintenance of a family out of sync with the times and utterly beyond repair.

running until July 31st at Guild Inn Gardens - Greek Theatre, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough

for directions go to the Company website at

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Soulpepper’s current double bill, e.e. cummings in song and Window on Toronto is an ingenious mixture of wondrous whimsy and powerful musical adaptation. The first half of the evening features actors/singers/musicians as they eloquently stumble around a beautifully cluttered stage, utilizing a variety of props and musical forms in order to highlight and feature the poet’s iconic work. Anyone enchanted by cumming’s blend of serious poetic thought and light, layered endearments will be taken in by the sheer skill and commitment this ensemble possesses. Highlights include Ins Choi’s brilliantly sculpted rendition of a cummings masterpiece that begins in a slight, quirky voice and ends with full ensemble support as they poignantly pound out the final lines of a very moving piece of sung poetry.

The second half of the evening, Window On Toronto, although very engaging in its blend of rapid fire, fragmented dialogue and extremely clever staging, could use a little trimming as some of the near slapstick moments appear excessive and somewhat lost through a narrow stage window that excludes parts of the audience. Video projections on either side could enhance a more judicious version of the show. The musical agility of the cummings section might have framed the second half, giving it a more cohesive, less contrasting presence in the overall production/double bill. Nevertheless, all of the strengths of the first half of the evening are apparent in the second half as it contains a series of physically complex vignettes depicting the view of a growing multicultural city through the eyes of a hot dog vendor sitting in his truck and watching the characters and the seasons pass.

All in all, a highly original and entertaining evening of theatre from a company that never fails to rise to the challenge and bring consistently engaging and unique performances to its audiences.