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