Thursday, May 24, 2012

How many grilled cheese sandwiches does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I don’t know, but I sure hope there’s lots of cheese and that it’s melted right through.
All through the hour-long installation, The Hunger, I kept thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches and Bendadryl. I had broken out in hives a few hours earlier and my right knee and elbow were quite itchy. In any other show this might suggest that I was so distracted by a craving for a toasty cheddar sandwich, and so irritated by my overbearing seasonal allergies, that I wasn’t able to pay attention to the performance. On the contrary, a multitude of slices of white bread used as screens arranged to display a plethora of projected ads (spinning consumerist fare, providing a dizzying visual feast, and arranged in a kaleidoscopic array) drew me into a tasty world of propaganda ranging from McDonalds to drive-in movie food, runway models, the brutal violence inherent to the animal kingdom, and haunting silhouettes of live bird-like dancers behind a large screen.

Before the dance segment began audience members wandered through a maze constructed by slices of bread hanging in plastic sheets with small video treats and intricate, ambient sound units throughout. Needless to say, the hunger began at the outset and surrounded spectating inhabitants all the way through.

The Hunger explores mass consumption. Margaret Krawecka works on a model of The Hunger, a performance-installation that explores consumption that will be presented at Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement from May 24 to 27. A protion of ticket sales will benefit the West End Food Co-op. Staff photo/ERIN HATFIELD

By the end of the piece my itches had become part and parcel of a virtual tour of immersive sensory perception and my hunger was satiated by the opening night snacks and the delicious vegan gingerbread cookies paased out by the predatory, confrontational, dancing birds during the show. A surreal experience indeed, with a beautiful projected ending that brings the Hansel and Gretel connection full circle and encourages audience members to question a world saturated by tasty packages that draw us in to rather dark, seductive surroundings that may not be what they seem. 

not to be missed, and running until May 27th 
at 6 Noble Street

for directions and ticket info go to

And the Benadryl? I bought some on my way home. The itch is gone but the hunger remains.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

like the Blair Witch... but with gingerbread."    Ulysses Castellanos
"Don't worry Gretel, Sleep well."

With video projections by Ulysses Castellanos, famous for his citational performances such as The Teddy Chainsaw Massacre (performed entirely with Teddy Bears) and the hilarious, provocative and vegetarian-alienating Chickens Must Watch D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the upcoming performance installation The Hunger promises to be a magical mystery tour through a re-telling of a classic fairy tale.

Castellanos describes the work as an "unsettling and uncanny" visit to a site replete with large structures made of bread, attendants in bird masks serving gingerbread men, and a huge kaleidoscope that will project the video works in a dazzling, collage-like manner. The idea of "children seeing a nice candy house and  then there's a witch inside" becomes a metaphor to everything in our lives that may seem "familiar and pleasing but becomes evil." Last seen at La Nuit Blanche in 2011, the upcoming version of The Hunger will be the final and most elaborate installment of this ensemble piece featuring the work of a variety of artists who have collaborated through dance, sound, and video to create a metaphor to a cultural milieu that sucks us in with a sugary coating and then proceeds to frighten us with a decidedly more gruesome interior. Sounds like a fabulous interrogation of consumerism to me.

Castellanos considers The Hunger "more Eraserhead and less Texas Chainsaw" and feels that the final product will be a diverse and exciting experience for everyone involved.

"The Hunger is an adaptation of the folk tale Hansel and Gretel into an immersive spatial experience. This performance installation is a unique theatrical fusion of sound, installation, video and live choreography, exploring the themes of escapism and consumption."  (The Hunger website)
for tickets and info go to -
Thursday 24 May - Sunday 27 May, 2012 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Maria Vacratsis and Oliver Dennis

The current production of David Storey’s Home is a bafflingly beautifiul production of somewhat surreal proportions. It is a difficult play to stage and an even more difficult play to review without marking every sentence with spoiler alerts. Nevertheless, one will attempt to carry on wordily through a maze of dialogue and performance for a few rnadcap moments of constructive critique.


The ensemble cast is flawless, so to speak, in a drama entirely populated by the flawed, the furious, and the frequently funny. Oblique characters come alive in varied tones  in the hands of Oliver Dennis, Maria Vacratsis, Brenda Robins, and Michael Hanrahan - and the rather thankless but delightfully strange performance by Andre Sills as the outdoor-furniture wielding bit of brawny fifth business.

Andre Sills

As the female tier of two gendered duos, Vacratsis and Robins work well off of each other and deliver quirky and powerful performances as two women trying desperately to bond within distressing circumstances. Robins’ stylized staccato laughter is especially infectious, and Vacratsis delivers her brilliant signature causticism with impeccable timing and engaging, wildly humorous gloom. Hanrahan and Dennis play off the two strong women with a subtle charm and withdrawn melancholy that ebbs and flows as the interaction between the foursome evolves.

But in the end one wonders about a play of this ‘nature’ - and that may very well be part of the point of Storey’s treatise on maladjustment. Original productions had the likes of John Geilgud and Ralph Richardson coming up baffled by the pauses and the obtuse references to pasts that seem to have pathologized the characters within very bleak and trying environments. Home represents a series of brief engagements as four social outcasts meet, greet, and try to find enough chairs for everyone to be seated.

Albert Shcultz’ direction is spare and effective, with moments of bewildering silence that absurdism demands, and yet a vertiginous soundscape, or an infectious, explosive way of ending a sentence here and there might have provided clues earlier on regarding the very bewildered narrative that never quite presents itself fully.

The overall drama is skillfully enlivened by a huge mesmerizing back screen that simply states - like the paradoxically kinetic inertia of a painting by Magritte - that time is passing as blue skies and pillowy clouds morph and metabolize around us.

This classic 1970’s unwieldy stage vehicle is well worth seeing as an infectious example of  a kind of strained naturalism that masquerades as absurdism. And yet, without revealing too much about a drama that has become famous for its rather impenetrable surface of dialogic weirdness, absurdism only applies when the events cannot actually happen within the realm of logical and explicable human exchange. Alas, the most frightening, compelling, and uncomfortably entertaining aspect of Storey’s play lies in the fact that these people can exist, and do, and must struggle with the timing, the interaction, the society, and the all of the conflicted cues, mishaps, and light conversational entanglements that mark their very mangled, measured days.  


Thursday, May 17, 2012


Rent is one of those shows possessing such a seamless, high-powered score, filled with so many memorable moments and songs, that it runs the risk of becoming a blurry mélange of sight and sound if not handled with impeccable artistry. The current Theatre Sheridan is such a clearly articulated and beautifully performed production - in the intimate surroundings of the Panasonic Theatre - that it takes one’s breath away.

Director Lezlie Wade - with intricate, at times steamy choreography by Marc Kimelman - has guided her incredible team through the entire masterpiece with such an eye for precision and distinct characterization that even diehard fans of this groundbreaking musical will see new and exciting ways of interpreting the cast of memorable characters.

The entire ensemble shines in a spectacular display of talent. My favorite number has always been the performance art piece, and in the hands of Julia McLellan as Maureen, the number comes alive with new intensity and drive. Having seen three productions in Toronto and New York, Theatre Sheridan’s RENT ranks high as an incredible version of this funny, wise, sexy, and profoundly moving piece of musical theatre.

running at the PANASONIC THEATRE 
until June 3rd

Wednesday, May 16, 2012



In association with Theatre Passe Muraille and Aluna Theatre, Rutas Panamericanas/Panamerican Routes opened last night with a vibrant and engaging interdisciplinary dance/puppet  theatre piece from LOCO7, entitled Urban Odyssey. A mélange of puppets, both great and small, manipulated skillfully by a talented acting ensemble, filled the stage for eighty minutes and depicted, through haunting form, powerful video images, and frequent voice-overs, the layered and often  arduous experience of immigrating to America.

The sheer diversity and resourcefulness embodied by the array of cleverly built puppets - from larger than life marionettes looming over the actors, to a playful scene with brightly colored, tiny child like puppets - created an analogous connection to the ways in which individuals are often called upon to take on many roles in order survive as immigrants in a frequently unwelcoming environment. 

The layering of a single character played by Federico Restrepo, through the use of a variety of puppets who resembled his actual human presence, revealed the various personas and skills one is called upon to display as individuals facing the “allure, disillusionments and rites of passage of striving for the American Dream.” (program note) 

At one point Restrepo’s character asks whether everything he has achieved before immigrating disappears when he arrives in America. Does he have to begin again? A climactic scene with the re-entry of giant, business suited puppets sporting menacing Medusa-like heads and carrying ominous placards suggested that the struggle to re-invent one’s self in the face of rampant capitalism can lead to a dead end, or at the very least, an over mortgaged cul-de-sac. And yet, the resourcefulness of an incredibly versatile tent-like structure, the dancerly episodes of inventive play and haunting struggle, attest to the ongoing, life-affirming persistence of individuals in search of a new life within personalized visions of a single America as a peaceful and united entity.

featured photography by a group of former child soldiers and youth at risk who documented their lives in the Barrio Honda outside of Medellin, Colombia (as part of an international workshop held by Aluna in 2009), as well as featuring the work of Canadian travel photographer Lola Reid Allin 

a contrasting set of curated works

the exhibit will be on display in the lobby of Theatre Passe Muraille from 12pm to 5pm
and upstairs on the mezzanine for patrons of the festival

In her opening remarks, Beatriz Pizano, artistic director of Aluna Theatre, the Festival’s hosting company, passionately referred to  the dream of an America that included an entire continent, rather than the sharply divided economic spheres presently in place. Panamerican Routes and Urban Odyssey reveal this ongoing struggle in engaging, powerful, and visionary ways, giving a fine aesthetic focus for the ongoing development of Pizano’s concluding remarks in her program notes -

"The whole continent is our home: this festival is our way of going beyond             divisions and making connections. Interdisciplinary. From across the 
Americas. We are bringing great art and great minds together in debate and controversial issues, on stage and off."

Urban Odyssey runs until May 20th

details about other mainstage festival shows (at stages throughout the city) and workshops, running until May 27th can be found at

Friday, May 11, 2012

FROM THE HOUSE OF MIRTH "no one will ever know the cost of beauty"


Society is a revolving body which is apt to be judged according to its place in each man’s heaven; and at present it was turning its illuminated face to Lily.

                                                  The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

In his multi-disciplinary dance adaptation of Wharton’s classic novel, James Kudelka has perfectly captured the sense of Lily Bart’s revolving body as she is put through a series of intricate class-conscious movements with three other women culled from the depths of high society. Set to a beautiful and evocative score by Rodney Sharman - with selections from Franz Liszt and Franz Grothe - Claudia Moore, Christianne Ullmark, and Victoria Bertram mingle with Laurence Lemieux’s stunningly performed Lily, providing a demure grace and cunning charm that brings the quartet of desperate socialites together in graceful and elegant movements. 

Gradually dissipating, and then ruthlessly separating through the repetition of a gorgeous symmetry, these revolutions into the tragic denouement of Wharton’s class-based tragic love narrative render the overall experience a kind of courtly collision of music and movement - a veritable mash-up of theatre, opera, and lightly gathered, choreographic romance machinations.

Performed beneath and around a posh, gilded cage like structure by David Gaucher - resplendent through the inert presence of a sumptuous chandelier - the dance sequences run seamlessly throughout the ongoing score. Kudelka could open up these interconnected segments a little earlier, bringing a somewhat more explosive nuance to the drama at hand, and yet this is a small sacrifice for the final, brilliant punctuation of Lily’s demise.

Lemieux is in fine form as she leads her social competitors through Kudelka’s ensemble of courtly'esque formations, with hints of balletic gestures and sharply modern limb extensions that infuse small movements of the arms with a kind of tightly knit upper class grace-cum-refined/repressed energy.

A commingling of polite society and ruthless ‘courtly’ love is made all the more layered and deceptive by the rich, varied operatic voices of Alexander Dobson, Geoffrey Sirett, Graham Thomson, and Scott Belluz.


Belluz’ piercingly beautiful coloratura rises from the ensemble throughout, providing an intense contrast to the lower tones of his steamy, sensually inclined cohorts. Ultimately, this distinct collection of voices contributes to a gorgeous, heavily gendered collaboration of music and form that provides a dominant narrative motif appropriate to Wharton’s original critique of men and women bargaining for a lucrative clutch. The upper classes and their mangled route through amorous transactions - and eventual marriage - come out on top of a virtual heap of mismanaged lives. When Lily falls it is all the more poignant due to Belluz’ final piercing repetitive cry that punctuates the text with Wharton’s double-edged play with fated, mirthful aspirations.

Alex Poch-Goldin’s direct and simply stated libretto begins with  a clear, Whitmanesque ring of wealthy America at the turn of the century as the four men join in a near anthem-like verse espousing the grandeur of “America, American, Americana/Land of mountains, field and streams/And dreams.” Goldin proceeds to tell the story with a firm grasp of condensed narrative structure, taking us in a pleasingly tumultuous way toward a terribly distressful end.

Running at the Citadel in Regent Park until May 14th, From The House of Mirth is a beautifully conceived piece of dance theatre, rich in narrative and drowning in lush, impassioned voice and intricate gestural flow. Costumes by Hoax Couture present a restrained regal air - until Lily appears late in the day, barefoot and devilishly glamorous in a fated, muted, plum’ish chiffon piece lending her a timeless, faintly Shakespearean tone.

The overall program is a brilliant, restrained, integrated feast of singing men and dancing women caught within the stylish confines of cut-throat cultural affairs soaked in love and money.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012


         "Adolphe Appia . . . believed that shade was as necessary as light to form a   connection between the actor and the setting of the performance in time and space. Through the use and control of light intensity, colour and manipulation, Appia created a new perspective of scene design and stage lighting."

Try to imagine a completely selfless act of egotism. It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but in the hands of a gifted storyteller it becomes a funny, poignant and vastly entertaining seventy-five minute journey through some of life’s most difficult, joyous, and memorable moments. Itai Erdal’s one-man show, How To Disappear Completely, is a brilliantly lit, beautifully written, and seamlessly performed monologue of scoreless operatic proportions that defy gravity as hilarious flights of fancy, alongside interactive segments filled with bravado and delightful self-assurance, pay homage to a life lived to the fullest.

Erdal’s connection to classic lighting design, bringing a variety of evocative shadows to any given drama, coupled with his desire to make documentary films, seep into the narrative and give the overall mise en scene a complex metaphoric quality that is at once haunting, wry, and utterly engaging.

Beginning with the admission that he is not an actor Erdal proceeds to prove that brilliant storytelling and high caliber acting are one in the same thing as he nonchalantly interacts with film footage of his mother, sister, and best friend during especially trying times. The sheer magnetism and charisma of all the characters on film, and Erdal’s own stage presence, turn this virtuoso solo performance into a gorgeous ensemble of memory, experience, and profound loyalty.

As part of Factory Theatre’s Annual Festival of Groundbreaking New Work, How to Disappear Completely is a perfect gem-like theatrical hybrid that summons and dismisses both light and darkness, literally and figuratively, with the flick of a switch. See for yourself - there will be shadows, follow spots, and heartwarming humility in the face of sheer confidence and skill as they interact with incredibly deep-seated familial bonds.

To describe the show in any more narrative detail would necessitate so many spoiler alerts that an actual review would disappear, completely…

running at Factory Theatre 
until May 13th

Masterclass with Lighting Designer Itai Erdal

Experience an in-depth look into the unique artistic process of renowned lighting designer Itai Erdal!

Visiting Toronto with How to Disappear Completely at Factory Theatre (May 8-13), Erdal will give a masterclass on May 12, including a live demonstration and discussion of his lighting techniques. The Vancouver-based designer has garnered critical acclaim, working on productions in North America, Europe, and Israel.

"Lighting designer Itai Erdal does more with light and fog than most designers do with an entire set; indeed, his evocative and magical lighting will undoubtedly be one of the aspects of this production that lives on in the audience's memories."
- John Threlfall, Monday Magazine

“The professional insights of Erdal, who at times operates the lighting from the stage, are used to great effect to illuminate his story, becoming a metaphor for his experiences and for life’s big questions … he uses the medium he knows so intimately to transcend the private, and present theatre with universal resonance…"
- The Globe and Mail

Date: Saturday, May 12, 2012
Time: 2:00PM – 5:00PM
Location: Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
Admission:   $25
or  $45 package with a ticket to How To Disappear (May 8-13, 2013)

Please call the Factory Box Office at 416-504-9971 or visit in person to reserve your tickets.

the game of
love and chance

only a few days left in the run of the riotous Canadian Stage production of

The Game of Love and Chance !!!

Marivaux’s classic comedy has been beautifully stylized and adapted by a production  team that has a fine understanding of how the commingling of past and present theatrical convention can create a crisp and delightful hybrid.
The six member cast takes on challenging physical comedy with a real flair for turning stock characters into a kind of contemporary pastiche of all that has come before. Zach Fraser’s Mario is a brilliant foppish amalgamation of everything from an Oscar Wilde effete to a bumbling, wordy sophisticate fresh from the throes of a Noel Coward romantic comedy. Traces of sharp commedia del arte physicality seep through all of the performances as Trish Lindstrom, William Webster, and Harry Judge deliver wonderfully focused characterizations.

Standout performances by Gemma James-Smith  and Gil Garratt as servants caught within class conflict and outrageous misalliance make the evening a raucous exercise in hilarious physical and emotional contortions - punctuating every word and deed with a contrived, amusingly elegant form of complex blocking. Moving both in and out of sync with their thoughts and actions they fill the stage with intense manic energy.

A few centuries ago, when Marivaux’s scripts were brand new, the form had already morphed through a number of theatrical influences. Matthew Jocelyn’s direction and Nicholas Billon’s translation are true to the anachronistic creative spirit that influenced classic French comedy as well as earlier genres across the channel (i.e. Shakespeare). Sets by Anick La Bissonière and costumes by Linda Brunelle render this Canadian Stage/Centaur Theatre collaboration a sleek, colourful, and laugh-filled tour de force that hits home the point that the game of love and chance hasn’t really changed all that much over the centuries.

running until may 12th 
at the bluma appel theatre

Sunday, May 6, 2012


The recent Danceworks presentation of the Bouchardanse program Histoire d’amour was a lyrical, at times interactive journey through the throes of romantic loyalty, joy, and frolicking misadventure. Costumes by Cheryl Lalonde gave the evening a crisp, slightly dusty, beautifully faded sense of a kind of  timeless nostalgia - suggesting a variety of periods and faintly reminding one of Fragonard’s classic series of paintings The Progress of Love. With performers swaddled and drenched in stylized romantic lines, and at the outset, a kind of charming all white clown like garment, a sense of divine decadence filled the space and flirted with the imagination.

 Sylvie Bouchard et Brendan Wyatt. 
Photo: Joseph Michael Photography 

The presence of Christian Laurin as a robust and powerful narrator, capable of almost bouffant-like movement and facial expression, transformed the piece into a thoroughly engaging evening of dance theatre. Moving from ancient Greece through the middle ages and ending in explorations of the early modern period and the romantic era, the choreographers created a seamless flow through ideas around Platonic love, same sex coupling, courtship, melancholy, madness and excess.

At one point Laurin’s narrator character had him interacting in a playful way with the audience as spectators were asked to scribble one word emotions associated with their first love. These amorous emissions were then gathered by a selection of “love bunnies” and then interpreted in movement to the delight of one and all. Sylive Bouchard’s exquisite capacity for a rhythmic and staccato like movement of the limbs gave this sequence a grand comic elegance, while Brendan Wyattt’s expressive agility and his ability to engage with Bouchard in an effortless form of gentle athleticism marked portions of the program with a kind of buoyant, and at times explosive, gracefulness. And there was a bit of tastefully shrouded nudity for both performers to indulge in, and that is always pleasant at the best of times.

Gorgeous projections  by Ayelen Liberona, and simple moving screens by Cheryl Lalonde, framed the playing space with a strong interactive quality that drew one into the layered format of dance, acting, and evocative music (Thomas Ryder Payne). Lindsay Zier-Vogel’s writing/text editing was at once playful and informative, with a hint of improvised narrative space for the performer to move in and out of.

Ultimately, the evening was a belated Valentine’s Day missive for anyone interested in the ongoing spectacle of love - and all of the madness that it entails.