Monday, January 27, 2014

But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
I just don't think it'd understand
And if you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
He might blow up and kill this man...

You can tell your ma I moved to Arkansas
Or you can tell your dog to bite my leg
Or tell your brother Cliff who's fist can tell my lips
He never really liked me anyway

Oh tell your Aunt Louise, tell anything you please
Myself already knows that I'm okay
Oh you can tell my eyes to watch out for my mind
It might be walking out on me today

But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
I just don't think it'd understand
And if you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
He might blow up and kill this man

The Opening Ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games will happen Friday, February 7, 2014, at 12:14pm ET. The 2014 Grammy's happened just last night and thirty four couples, (same sex and opposite sex) united in a ceremony that has been viewed by some as  intrusive propaganda - an anti-Christian leftist political message inappropriate at an awards event that is suppose to be just about the music. In an age when sexual identity is still such a hotbed for infuriating discussions one may wonder where the whole notion that the personal is political has gone to. So many songs depend upon narratives that call into question traditional notions around love and romance, and yet we still have irate people voicing their opinions when a specific political message shows up in the midst of a lavish first world spectacle that tends to cloak everything in pomp and circumstance, and often shrouds the real life details of living and loving in very troubled times within non-specific, frequently heteronormative scenarios that leave so many sexual and gender possibilities out of the equation. My fakey achey breaky heart bleeds for spectators who cannot see the forest for the grammy nominated trees. For all the tone deaf music loving homophobes out there, get a grip!!!

And how does any of this politicized banter relate to the current piece of musical theatre gracing the stage at Theatre Passe Muraille? The Way Back to Thursday is a tender, at times bleak, always loving account of a gay man's struggle to find his way through all of the intolerance and lack of acceptance in time to share his identity with someone he loves deeply.

Living in a large urban centre can make the innocent and poignant charm of a musical about coming out in a homophobic world where huge political strides forward have been made seem a bit hokey and somewhat naive. And yet seventy-five minutes of non-stop melodic song cycle discourse between a young man and his grandmother ultimately wins one over in Rob Kempson's musical tour de force. 

The song cycle format allows two gifted performers, Kempson himself and Astrid Van Wieren, to tackle the daunting task of taking on a relentless parade of emotion, from childish delight to mature disappointment and discovery. Van Wieren has a powerful and commanding presence as her beautiful voice subtly navigates the array of musical motifs Kempson has created for her to explore. Kempson's physically and emotionally charged performance runs the gamut from frolicking pre-teen to inquiring adult who feels he has to leave the nurturing confines his grandmother provided and move to a large city to discover himself. 

Both performers move effortlessly through a narrative that brings us full circle, and yet the musical direction and the simple set, although effective, may not have given the political and emotional message the strength and power it truly needs. Simplicity can be a strong choice for a complex message, and yet The Way Back to Thursday could fare well through the use of more layered, less citational musical motifs - and a somewhat more developed sense of iconic theatrical gestures such as camp, satire, and even projections that would allow the Hollywood imagery referred to throughout to speak silently - and for itself.  

Rock Hudson plays a small part in a narrative that might have explored his presence further, thereby taking the analogous struggles between grandmother and grandson into more intricate areas. Two forty five minute acts, with an intermission, rather than a single hour and fifteen minute cycle, might begin to support the complexities of this very ambitious, entertaining, and important musical project.

Musical strains reminiscent of fifties pop, moving into more staccato rhythms that cite composers as diverse as Sondheim and musicals as iconic as A Chorus Line, could have been diversified further, giving the stories and the emotions a somewhat more layered rhythmic intensity.

And yet, at the end of the play, on the way back to the thursday night, old movie/filmfests that grandma and grandson once shared, one finds a very simple and moving story that still needs to be told in an era when there are still countless people being made to feel ashamed, even terrified, of their sexual identity. The Sochi Olympics and the Grammy Awards may appear to be very opposite cultural and social events, but they both take us back to, through, and hopefully beyond the horror that homophobia has wrought for decades. The innocent charm of Rob Kempson's musical, the terror of current Putinesque politics, and sixty eight women and men being married at the Grammys last night,  reminds us that there are so many intricate ways in which to view the personal and the political. The Way Back To Thursday promises to become one of many positive vehicles for a universal, much needed message about love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014



The inaugural season of the Canadian Rep Theatre began at the Citadel this week with a
powerful and evocative production of Wajdi Mouawad's Pacamambo. Shelley Tepperman's translation is a direct and effective version of the text that might have delved a little more deeply into the poetic language that the metaphoric properties of the script suggests. Nevertheless, in the hands of a wonderful ensemble, and under the concise direction of artistic director Ken Gass, the initial Canadian Rep Theatre production is a tremendous beginning for the company.  

Primarily a dance space, the Citadel was transformed by the stark white of Marian Wihak's wonderful rectangular playing area, creating a spare minimalist effect that gives the actors, and a few sharply defined props, a spacious environment to inhabit in a tightly choreographed array of blocking and creative movement. Jung-Hye Kim's simple costuming, effectively dividing the symbolic from the real through the use of black and white for two characters, and grey-ish tones for the day to day wear of the other players, give the overall drama a very crisp feeling appropriate to the glaring emotion and intrusive interrogation that the narrative embraces.

Kyra Harper as Marie Marie delivered a beautifully understated performance through the use of impassioned/smouldering vocal skill and great physical agility as she navigated the confines of a very mutable bed that moved across the stage - becoming a kind of elegant cage-cum-lumbering-slumbering confine.

Michelle Polak created an entertaining, frequently moving form of comic relief in the midst of very serious scenes as the Moon/Growl presence. Her canine prowess gave great credibility and physical diversity to an extremely difficult role that, in the hands of a less skilled performer, could have become a kind of light, not easily digested form of parodic play.  

Karen Robinson as the psychiatrist began with a commanding presence that never faltered as she played dual parts with a very strong, and committed performance well-suited to the well-meaning yet decidedly institutionalized, at times symbolic quality of her roles. When Robinson re-enters near the end of the play, a very simple change to to her sharply defined costume allows her already established eloquence and passion to morph into a razor sharp connection to the central motif of the play.

Death permeates the narrative yet uplifts, entertains, and ultimately enlightens as audiences are drawn into a sixty five minute journey through a young woman's introduction to one of life's most difficult lessons. As Julie, the central inquisitor and wide-eyed traveler on the road to Pacamambo, Amy Keating is consistently believable and extremely engaging as an angst ridden teen in pursuit of symbols, hope, and poetic emotional support as she makes her way through loss, canine camaraderie, and the poignant, timeworn trauma of adolescent enlightenment. 


Friday, January 17, 2014


Running for only three nights at Buddies In Bad Times Cabaret Space, A Conversation with Edith Head is a unique and thoroughly engaging ninety minute monologic tour de force that delights the eye and ear as photographs, gowns, and immaculately researched cinematic design history all meld together into an evening of gorgeous nostalgia.

Susan Claassen's performance deftly handles the staccato mannered tone of Head's vocal stylings as she seamlessly weaves audience interaction with beautifully nuanced acting and physical prowess. Claassen inhabits the stage with grace and comfort, making her audience believe they are at home with Edie and all her glorious designs. Stuart Moulton as Miss Head's Host gives a lively supporting performance as he skillfully and effortlessly intervenes from time to time, keeping the legendary  lady on her toes as she rambles through an endless array of Hollywood memories. 

On opening night Claassen was able to diplomatically make fun of a front row fellow dressed in "lumberjack" plaid, winning him - and the rest of the audience - over with her grand sense of humour and impeccable timing as she captivated one and all. 

The collaborative script, written by Claassen and Paddy Calistro, is packed with countless anecdotes and clever segues in and out of witty, at times poignant sequences. Anyone interested in the Hollywood of a bygone era, when the star system and studio glamour were still intact - with Edith Head as the grand dame of costume design - will not want to miss this star studded evening of absolute delight.


in co-production with Theatre Smash

Maja Zade’s starkly effective sixty minute translation of Marius von Mayenburg’s tragicomic fable-cum-parody of the cosmetic surgery industry graces the stage of Tarragon Theatre’s Extraspace with a powerful cast and intense and concise direction from Ashlie Corcoran. This Dora Award winning re-mount has the original cast re-playing the roles of four power hungry hedonists in hot pursuit of wealth, each other, and the perfect countenance. 

Sharp, bright lighting, interspersed with subtler shadowy sequences, beautifully handled by lighting designer Jason Hand, pulls the audience into the drama at hand in a perhaps unintentionally yet appropriately unflattering way. With bleachers on either side of the raised rectangular playing space spectators are forced to view themselves and the actors as complicit participants in a game of love lust and competitive squalor. Sound by John Gzowski blasts us in and out of explosive environments and gives us the necessary ease of complicit discomfort that the script demands. 

Apples are placed onstage and in the front row for actors to become even closer to their thoroughly engaged spectatorial voyeurs, becoming biblical props in a kind of symbolic Adam and Evil Garden of Eden scenario gone terribly wrong form the very beginning.

Hardee T. Lineham as Scheffler, the ruthless boss, gives a remarkable layered performance with vocal nuances and rapid physical movement that give him an almost Anthony Hopkins/Hannibal Lekter presence that simultaneously frightens and amuses. 
David Jansen’s portrayal of Lette, the initial ‘ugly one,’ provides a kind of put upon Pygmalion figure rising angrily from the fleshly sliced ashes. Jansen delivers a delicate and powerful balance of ‘ugliness’ and great physical and emotional charm. 
Jesse Aaron Dwyre as Karlmann gives an equally powerful performance in a dual role that allows him to become the sexually marginalized character who preys off various rivalries at the outset. 
Naomi Wright, as a kind of raven haired Joan Rivers archetype-cum-allegory plays an elderly dowager’ly mother of eerie proportions, as well as the straight talking Fanny - wife to Jansen’s initially perplexed and bewildered ugly one. Wright gives a layered, sharply played performance that rounds out a first rate ensemble adept at handling the tricky business of directly and simply written parody that soars to Kafka-esque heights by the end of the play - finding Dwyre and Jansen in a deliciously sexy encounter of the narcissistic kind. Camellia Koo's set and costumes are pristine, sharp, CEO inspired silhouettes in black and white and grey, enhancing a white raised dais of a stage that puts all of our self adoring tendencies on display for us to examine, laugh at, and be horrified by. Leaving one with the eternal question, who is that smiling at me in the glistening relentless snow white existential mirror of post-modern life. Oh my, it's me...

The Ugly One runs at the 
Tarragon Extraspace 
until February 16th

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Evelyne de la Chenelière's remarkable play, Flesh and Other Fragments of Love, inspired by Marie Cardinal's renowned novel, is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on love, marriage, and many other aspects of all-too-human interaction that need to be seen rather than hinted at in a mere review. But I won't let that stop me. 

Direction by Richard Rose is impeccable as he has the three characters inhabit the stage with an intense triumvirate of circularity that is simultaneously  menacing and embracing as the trio takes hold of the entire playing space - making complex sense, with every deliberate move, of the circumstances that surround a tragic discovery during a vacation on the Irish coast.

The opening moments of the play possess a slightly annoying ring of nattering, bickering domestic repartee between the central couple, but this very quickly disappears, having set the stage with an essential element of pointed talk that leads into an incredible, acute, and finely tuned balance between the elegant poetry of the script and a kind of naturalistic delivery that the actors deliver seamlessly - with a perfect balance of the subtle and the sublime.

Linda Gaboriau's translation of this English Language premiere was applauded by the playwright and the novelist during a talkback session before the opening. Gaboriau has achieved such a unique and powerful version of the original script that mixes monologues with dialogue in a relentless breakneck fusion of conversation and meditation, that it feels like one is witnessing a very rare and stunning artistic collaboration of novelist, playwright, and translator - when in fact Gaboriau has simply and brilliantly listened to the original and found the heart of the drama within the spoken voices and the silent consciousness of three very conflicted characters. There is humour and sarcasm and love and pain and the whole mess of glorious emotion that comprises a single lifetime and a single relationship.

At the core of the drama is a strong feminist voice that carefully delineates the pitfalls of a marriage and how a couple can begin with the best of intentions yet lapse into timeworn cliches about love and marriage and the heavily gendered roles of 'man and wife.' Maria del Mar as Simone gives the character an incredible and believable form of domestic, intellectual, and ethereal passion, while Blair Williams dazzles with charm as her husband Pierre. He both seethes and adores as he witnesses the emotive descriptions and responses that his husbandly rationalizations motivate and administer to. Nicole Underhay as Mary rounds out the cast with a performance choreographed by Denise Fujiwara in a way that elegantly reflects this unique balance of poetry and naturalism. Underhay's subtle vocal tones blend into heightened gestural forms of of poetic delivery - all beautifully enhanced by movement that is neither grand nor understated. It is both. She may very well be a contemporary madonna figure flanked by a kind of Simone de Beauvoir character who fights for her principles within very modern, very material circumstances.

Set  design by Karyn McCallum provides an amazing variety of levels and perspectives, from the raked central area to low lying spaces, giving the drama a reflective surface upon which to project the many layers of conversation, meditation, rationalization, and gorgeous, deceptively surreal narrative images that move us, with great aplomb and emotional engagement toward a very moving and complex finale.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Susan Claassen's

A Conversation With Edith Head 

Most connoisseurs or aficionados of classic cinema know the name Edith Head. She won eight Oscars—nominated for a staggering 35—over a six decade career in costume design, working on an unprecedented 1131 films. Whether it be the sarong Dorothy Lamour made famous in The Hurricane (1937), the evening dress with the exposed shoulder worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950), the delicious Fifth Avenue fashion attire adorning the icy cool Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954), or the grey business suit James Stewart obsessed over, worn by Kim Novak's duplicitous character in Vertigo (1958), all had the mark of genius of fashion stylist

Susan Claassen brings her critically-acclaimed one-woman show, A Conversation With Edith Head to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, January 17-19, 2014.

Claassen wrote the play after doing extensive research for a year, and with the gracious assistance of the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences and the Motion Picture and Television Fund, the latter with which Head willed her estate. Head was a mainstay for over 40 years at Paramount, and for another 20 years at Universal, yet no one had ever done a theatrical piece with her as the subject. At the time the play was written, only three books had been written about, or published (posthumously) by Head. One of those writers, Paddy Calistro, who wrote the book, Edith Head's Hollywood, is still alive, and provided Claassen access to over 13 hours of taped interviews with Head.

for a fabulous youtube preview see

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

forbodyand light


Linnea Gwiazda and Heather Lynn Macdonald performing 
in For Body and Light's l'Embarquement show 
at Mainline Theatre (Dec 2013). Photo Michael Kovacs

text written and performed by Ian Ferrier
choreography by Stéphanie Morin-Robert

Last fall's Canadian Festival of Spoken word opened with a full house for poet orientation. There was complimentary poutine from a truck on the street and some amazingly diverse spoken word performance that was combined with a gorgeous dance piece by for body and light, a Montreal based troupe that  I have had the pleasure of seeing twice - as part of the MIle End Poetry Festival and more recently the annual Canadian Spoken Word extravaganza. Poet's from across the country packed the space at Divan Orange and created an atmosphere of excitement and divine poetic excess for the dancers to work within. 

The work by for body and light  is a fabulous combination of poetry, dance theatre, performance, and visually stunning lighting and choreography. Acclaimed Spoken Word artist Ian Ferrier accompanied the dancers and contributed to an incredible atmospheric experience for a short piece entitled Hurricane

Ferrier's dulcet soothing tones surrounded the performance within the simultaneously powerful and comforting soundscape he is known for in his distinct combination of melodious guitar accompaniment and a kind of soft yet commanding presence through voice and word. With choreography by Stéphanie Morin-Robert, dancers Heather Lynn Macdonald and Linnea Gwiazda inhabited a very small section of the stage and carefully and methodically committed their bodies to a contemplative, at times subtly explosive relationship with onstage water. The juxtaposition of their bodies, closely aligned with each other, and the always unpredictable nature of water onstage and off, created an intense tension for the choreography to blossom within. Gradual movement became seamlessly entwined with Ferrier's evocative narrative, and moved into a finely conceived commingling of fluid engrossing physical and verbal imagery - bringing home the central notion of how a hurricane can overwhelm both body and spirit with weightlessness, spinning upheaval, and a sense of metaphoric transformation into interpretive realms ranging from images of grandmothers, wagonriders, invading armies, and JOYful tatoos.

About to embark on a North American tour, for body and light has created an impressive repertoire of dance performance that does precisely what their name promises. Creative use of lamps as hand held props, sharp lighting effects, minimal yet evocative onstage environments, and the beauty and power of a poet's words give the company an exciting and vast field of dance performance possibility to work within. 

For examples for of body and light's work go to -


written & performed by Ian Ferrier

When you are driving into a hurricane
you will first feel weightless
as if you made an ominous
wrong choice in life
a choice to defy even gravity

and as your car lifts off the road
you will wonder why you are
the only soul headed in your direction
and why in the afternoon sky gone dark
dark clouds are stacked so high you cannot
imagine light above them

the divided highway in the other direction
crawls with cars, trucks, carpets, pets, cattle,
grandmothers and wagonriders
abandoning the deserted island
your destination.


You will find yourself in a darkened city,
standing in a doorway for which
your keys don’t fit the lock

and the only people who befriend you
are those worse off than you—Tibetan cab driver
tick talk as the sound of the meter
times his country rocked by invading armies,
houses and beliefs crumbling
finger on the prayer bowl spinning
all of us into hell


At the height of the hurricane you will see a tall boy and a girl in a black linen dress running down the avenue in the rain,
under the torn awning of your restaurant window
they stop to kiss,
and she reaches high high up to gather all of him into her heart,
and he lifts and twirls her and there three letters
tattooed up her neck
 J  -  O  -  Y

and when her kiss has made him breathless,
he will hold both her hands,
suggest, beseech that they
run for the shelter of their bed. 

And in that instant, JOY will leave him,
exiting frame left, and he left
standing in the rain, rain wracking the ribs of his
destroyed umbrella


When you walk into the center of a hurricane,
damage and beauty will be all that surround you
you will be awe-struck by the epic of your life. 
And will give all your possessions
to possess only that moment,

of love, danger, beauty, power
fear, darkness, rain, twilight. 
Trees falling crowds milling train leveled
wind thrown umbrellas javelins
sails leaves, billboards and lights,
the beaches collapsing collapsing

when you are driving
when you are driving