Saturday, December 5, 2015


Jeffrey Hatcher's stage adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novella is a chilling contemporary take on an intense psychological thriller. By turning the double-sided character into four separate actors, all cascading across the stage through intricate and blood curdling scenes, modern audiences are confronted with the possibility of a descent into madness through  drug addiction as a multi-faceted pathology  that can make murderers of men as they prey upon each others competitive spirits and innocent women.

In the  hands of Echo Productions the script becomes an acrobatic, musically diverse array of amazing physical talent and diverse acting skills. The entire ensemble shine in a variety of roles that include gender reverse casting that adds a touch of comedy at the beginning and a layered sincerity and reflective element to a pivotal male character played by a young woman. 
Gender is particularly heteronormative in the play as it simultaneously reveals and deconstructs, with feminist proficiency, the misogyny at the core of the drama. One scene in particular has a gruesome and cleverly written exchange where a group of doctors stand around a recent murder victim. When the less sympathetic medical practitioner describes the examined body the language is crude and subjective as it places the emphasis upon the woman's identity. Quickly another Doctor enters and 'corrects' the chauvinist interpretation of the pathologizing forces that continue to misidentify feminized gender identity within some current mainstream discourse.

Hatchers language is complex and poetic as he seamlessly moves into speeches that diversify character and psychological possibility -

"I've come to believe there's no one who's wholly good or wholly bad...And as for "two streams," I think it's more apt to say ... bodies of water are endless in their possibility: streams and rivers, waterfalls and ice-jams, swamps and quicksand, oceans and deserts, a thousand tributaries flooding over the one into the other."

The staging concepts implicit in the script and the rich tone of the language allow for a multiplicitous reading of gender and identity, and yet the basic chilling potential of a psychopath on the large is front and centre throughout.

The cast has achieved a fine sense of physical and emotional camaraderie as dance, gymnastic flair, and fine acting ability commingle to create a convincing breakneck performance pace that never misses a beat. Bodies tumbling across the stage in flips and leaps, moving into scenes of naturalistic dialogue, and then into chilling moments of rage and terror, and back to soft romantic dance sequences between a man and a woman. And as a contrast to the heterocentric couplings at the centre of the written narrative, the intricately choreographed pairings of Jekyll's many Hyde's gives particular scenes a subtle homosocial, faintly erotic ambience that both titillates and haunts. Director Victoria Fuller has strategically balanced an array of challenging physical and vocal elements in a powerful and seamless production.

The cast is too large to mention all of the fine performances. Standouts include Tyler Hagermann's simultaneously sincere and wicked Dr Jekyll, Joseph Delfin's seething and provocative Sir Danvers Crew/Edward Hyde, Dylan Brennan's at once evil and genuinely subservient as Edward Hyde/Poole, Sheri Anne Godda's suave and precise Gabriel Utterson, and Mallory Fisher's sincere and powerful Elizabeth Jelkes. The entire cast displays a remarkable connectedness, working together to instill a strong sense of professionalism and non stop entertainment into this production.


Showing at the Walmer Theatre, 188 Lowther Avenue, Toronto.

December 2 - 8pm

December 3 - 8pm

December 4 - 8pm

December 5 - 2:30pm

December 5 - 8pm




Ross Petty’s last panto, after twenty years of seasonal family entertainment at the Elgin, is a superb example of broad socio-comic pastiche gracing the stage of one of Toronto’s most beautiful theatre’s. It has everything a child, and an adult, could wish for. Campy titillation with the most fabulous diva-esque Tinkerbell imaginable at the helm of classic panto stock characters in a postmodern milieu – who could ask for anything more. 
Giving away Tinkerbells’ refashioned name would require a giant spoiler alert. Suffice to say, Tink manages to bring transgendered, gay, drag and oh so many queer classic qualities together with fabled hetero-norma-nativity’ish (new word!) scenes in a raucous and thoroughly entertaining manner. Dan Chameroy’s turn as the great big irresistible fairy is a fine study in comic artistry.
The whole cast shines, with standout performances by Jessica Holmes as The Queen of Hearts and Lamar Johnson as The Mad Hatter. Anthony Macpherson’s Peter is an effortless and acrobatic feature as he masters the art of flying, singing, and doing a particularly astounding feat with a jump rope on the floor. The whole ensemble creates a tightly synchronized glorious romp from start to finish. The first act may be a bit too long, but the second half clips through to a wild and wonderful game show finale. Spectacular projections by Ben Chaisson and Beth Kates – replete with unabashed and entertaining product placement – are beautifully foregrounded by Michael Gianfrancesco’s fabulous and complex set and costumes that dazzle throughout as lush hedges, vivid dancing playing cards, and comely crinolines race across the stage in breakneck precision. 
There are too many skilfully crafted cornfed crowd pleasing jokes - essential to the fine art of pantomime - to mention. But Stephen Harper, recent TTC streetcar renos, and a cast of Canadian celebrities take the pant-parodic heat in a comic and scathing manner throughout. It is an evening fit for layered family fun that skilfully blends playful bawdiness with pure youthful fun as an audience well versed in Ross Petty’s talent for steering, both onstage and off, this Toronto tradition through two decades of pantomiming perfection . 
And of course, Karen Kain, a member of the original cast of the first Petty pantomime, was in the opening night audience to have her partner in Canadian prime time point out, during the curtain call, that perhaps she should have stayed with the panto cast instead of going on to have her own fabulous career as a pointy toed prima ballerina. It was all good fun, and the opening set of a panoramic Toronto skyline made it feel somehow shockingly apocalyptic and cosmopolitan in an era of endlessly rising condo towers, expressway deterioration, and Yonge Street sinkholes. And combining it with an Alice In Wonderland down the rabbit hole supra semi sub narrative, well, it was all such a glorious meta-panto to be enjoyed and to be reckoned with.




The Watershed Shakespeare Festival Collective has created a very unusual version of King Lear that is both ridiculous and sublime. But only ridiculous, from my queer point of view, in a complex positive sense, as it sheds a refreshing light upon a classic script that possesses so many elements of the ridiculous at the outset that it all comes across as a broad, fabulous, and farcical tragicomic romp through one outrageous saga of soap opera-ish proportions. And at the centre of it all stands one of Canada’s finest actors, David Fox, in the title role. 

In a nuanced, breathtakingly powerful and poignant performance, he stands as a beacon of elegance, subtlety, and complex psychological turmoil. Fox employs that perfected commingling of a naturalistic poeticism in his voice and body as he clips through the dialogue and longer speeches in a way that renders the language and the physicality clear, accessible and beautiful.

It would be too easy to suggest that the rest of the cast never reaches the same pinnacle, and perhaps a little pompous to simply say that the ensemble manages, against all odds, to make the production look like a 19th century Canadian painting come to life – a kind of Elizabethan Murdoch Mysteries colliding with Avonlea and made for a small Canadian stage. 

The mainspace at Passe Muraille is the perfect intimate setting for the show, giving the audience a range of viewing possibilities. The night I attended my guest and I were the only people at a bar table on the upper level, giving the experience a light cabaret feeling, which is the perfect way to make one’s way through three and a half hours (one intermission, three mild cocktails…) of Lear’s long day’s journey into intense familial fright.
A fallen tree trunk plays a stupendous supporting role as it rests its broken beam upon the railing in the upper level of the theatre, having risen from the grandeur of a very tightly conceived regional theatre looking naturalistic set that gives the overall production a kind of diorama come to life atmosphere. 

A simple version of what might be a considered a strained Group of Seven reproduction (e.g. Thomson’s The West Wind) frames the right side of the stage while a large drawing room area provides interior moments for the action to move in and out of. Incidental musical accompaniment underscores it all with a melodramatic touch that works well within the parameters of this strange and wonderful production. 

The three sisters come to life in lush costumes that render them Royal Doulton figurines in action. The overall ensemble is faced with an impossibly possible task as they interpret characters with a range of acting styles. Of particular note are the moments involving Hume Baugh’s raffish convincing Fool, or Maureen Cassidy’s vividly rendered Goneril and her seushnuaously portrayted political/romantic escapades. One ethereal fleeting incident descends into hellish visual innuendo as she is effortlessly swung in a half circle in the arms of a comely paramour. Charlie Tomlinson’s Gloucester has a robust youthful quality that is charming and layered, and his costume is surprisingly stylish in a rogue’ish swashbuckling kind of way.
Rod Carley’s direction, placing the action within an 1837 Upper Canadian milieu, plays devilishly with the idea that, at this point in time, Shakespeare can be just about anything one wants it to be.

I longed for a slightly more cohesive stylization that might have brought the crisp clear lines of a Lawren Harris together with the less rigid richly coloristic contours of a Tom Thomson looming over the action. This could, perhaps, help the overall absurdity (approaching caricature at times) of the general mise en scene of this odd, strangely beautiful production, make more obvious visual and visceral sense. But in an age of misidentified global warfare, changing regimes on a national level, and familial dysfunction on every horizon of social and cultural mayhem, well, it was the best example of the ridiculous the beautiful and the sublime that I have ever seen – this week, and very likely, beyond…

Saturday, November 28, 2015

FACING HOME: love & redemption

FACING HOME love & redemption

And Now This

I woke up one day, for the first time with no doubt in my mind
& that scared me the most. I knew what my grandfather said
about that man with the plum sweet walk, about that girl
with the shoulders and no hair. I knew that boy Michael
from round the corner didn’t get along with his daddy,
what sins blackened his eyes those summer days,
I knew all the holy water, black like mine fist & flesh
thirsty fire that wanted to wipe me clean or clean
off the face of this earth. I knew where I belonged
but wasn’t wanted. I knew about my home’s
not so secret teeth. So I ran from my black sun
for lily white snow skinned people who let me
know everyday the color of my one and only skin,
who cared less of the rainbow dancing in my sweat
but the way my body looks caught in its own shadow.

- Danez Smith
Rarely does a dance performance integrate so many varied production values in such a seamless and intense manner. ‘FACING HOME love & redemption’ takes on the issue of homophobia in Jamaica, utilizing spoken word, news broadcasts, Bob Marley’s music, and an amazing array of dance styles all rendered with an amazing intensity. Moving through thirteen separate segments, a company of twelve dancers render each section with such fluidity and power that the overall program becomes a spectacular and moving piece of dance theatre mixing medium and message in an entertaining and thought provoking way. 
 The primary discourse, around liberation and interrogation, is so strikingly integrated that there are countless moments of pure gorgeous dance that are, paradoxically, never far from the central narrative that both laments the oppression of sexual liberation and celebrates the joy and power it can bring once it is set free from oppressive forces.

Choreography by Chris Walker and Kevin Ormsby mixes strikingly athletic movement with strong balletic gestures and the sheer grace of sharp expressive ensemble formations. Moments of seemingly routine, casual corporeal energy bursts into sudden impeccably executed bouts of fluidity and gestural individuality - subtly belying the contrast of stylized physicality and day-to- day movement. Walking and running seamlessly become a complex mingling of intricately choreographed bodies and/or individual limbs as various arrangements form duos, quartets, and then the entire ensemble… High energy mixes with segments of slower rhythmic exploration and inter-connected body symmetry.  The overall choreography possesses a diverse cohesive quality that ultimately creates a ninety-minute tour de force comprised of solo, duo, and choral virtuosity.
No Woman No Cry includes young women (Tereka Tyler Davis, Elina Valtonen and/or Gabriella Parson) taking part in powerful moments of separation and union. Bodies explore the playing space in an intriguing relationship that brings them together in a strong tentative manner, at times a kind of loving entanglement of limbs and torsos - moving into shades of intimacy - at other times distant and free yet always lurking within the realm of desire and physical allure.

In My Shadow is a very moving and empowering solo performance by Pierre Clark where he embarks on vivid, challenging, and expressive movement evoking everything from archetypal feminized gestures that playfully mock the abject mockery of homophobia, to powerful fleeting tableaus – set in high relief against a double shadowed effect. Accompanied only by the sound of a voice in the audience reciting Danez Smiths’ powerful poem, And Now This, (beautifully performed by Chris Walker) the piece becomes a superb integration of voice and body as they commingle and create a haunting and empowered response to, and release from, the power of homophobic language and action. Clark’s brief physical characterization of the poems’ reference to “that man with the plum sweet walk” becomes a perfect expression of movement meeting narrative in a powerful incisive manner. All of the references in the poem reach out with an inter-textual grace and power toward the overall program, bringing the choreography of the entire program together in one powerful moment.

One, the final selection of the evening, unites all of the dancers in a joyful celebration of all that has come before, reprising the primary narrative strength of the program as solo and choral expertise both unites and separates. An ensemble of bodies and stories live individually and collectively and act as a force against an oppressive global thematic that speaks to victims of homophobia worldwide and hearkens back to the final lines of a pivotal poetic theme -

lily white snow skinned people who let me
know everyday the color of my one and only skin,
who cared less of the rainbow dancing in my sweat
but the way my body looks caught in its own shadow.

Set within the narrative framework of specific homophobic practice, these words, like the overall choreography of FACING HOME: love & redemption, render the specific universal, and act as a cry against homophobic injustice and the perceptions around the analysis and deconstruction of hate crimes and complex homophobic discourse that moves beyond regional boundaries. As the choreographers so eloquently state in their program note –

“FACING HOME” is meant to impact migrant populations, generate change and ignite the LGBTQ community, it’s supporters, and service workers everywhere it’s performed and beyond. We hope, with this work, to initiate an ongoing conversation with you and provide spaces for the LGBTQ narratives of displacement from home.

One Love!
Chris Walker and Kevin A. Ormsby

FACING HOME love & redemption runs 
at Aki Studio 585 Dundas Street East, 8pm November 26-29

Wednesday, November 25, 2015



Andrew Kushnir’s Wormwood is an epic drama that mixes fable-like scenarios with the gritty realism of political unrest amidst the aftermath of social and environmental upheaval. The poetic strength of the writing is reminiscent of some of Tony Kushner’s work (Slavs and Angels In America in particular) and transcends the very bleak events and images that place names like Chernobyl evoke.
photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
The eight actor ensemble brings this delicate balance of beauty and bitterness to life through vivid, moving performances that simultaneously tug at the heart strings and make spectators brutally aware of the sheer hopelessness one may lapse into in light of history’s repetitive and catastrophic nature.
Luke Humphrey as Ivan brings a convincing array of layered emotions to a central role as he epitomizes the bright-eyed optimism – diving stubbornly and charmingly into romantic idealism - that the central narrative plays with. As a young Canadian man of Ukrainian origin his identity takes on a fractured, charismatic quality as he searches for some form of truth regarding the political climate that led to the Orange Revolution of 2004 where “a million people draped in Orange in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, in peaceful protest, [called] out for their dignity after a rigged election.” *  The whole notion of fighting for one’s personal and national dignity is represented by each character as they take on individual responses to the social upheaval at hand.
Ben Campbell as the freewheeling Professor attempting to procure safety and security is a fine study in ruthlessness and heartfelt sincerity. Chala Hunter as Artemisia, in perhaps the most symbolic role, portrays a layered wonderment filled with the memory of a beloved parent who gives her a complex legacy to unravel as she comes to terms with her own personal and political position. As a child becoming a woman she is asked to free herself through symbol and metaphor from male enterprise and domination. Hunter tackles a difficult role with grace and a form of gradual awareness and powerful self-assurance.  The uninhabited island image that arises in the second act becomes a kind of feminist-oriented focal point for all that she struggles to become – and to become liberated from – without losing a sense of her own powerful yet corrupted identity.
Chala Hunter, Luke Humphrey
Nancy Palk’s ‘Housekeeper’ and Amy Keating’s ‘Daughter’ are broad, effective portraits of a kind of stock character that simultaneously imbeds and explodes stereotypes of Eastern European identity. Palk in particular effectively takes on strident, entertaining poses that evoke the fable like aspect of the drama as well as the strength that the character’s care-giving qualities demand. 

Ben Campbell, Nancy Palk, Amy Keating

Ken James Stewart in a double role as Markiyan and The Cossack contributes beautifully to the musical motif that runs throughout, and displays a fine talent for subtly crafted caricature, as well as a credible and realistic supporting foil for Ivan’s wide-eyed personal/political blunders. Victor Mishalow as the Bandurist provides onstage accompaniment adding haunting vocals and musical counterpoints that help to create that delicate balance between near fantasy-like fable and political realism.

Scott Wentworth as The Kobzar and The Doctor brings the whole narrative together as his intense, charismatic acting style and his dual character status gradually develop over two hour long acts. His seamless onstage movement from one character to the other reveals the complexities of a script that, although rich in detail and brilliantly conceived through intricate interwoven forms and ideologies, rambles somewhat in act one but recovers quickly in the second half.

Richard Rose’s detailed direction gives Camellia Koo’s spare and evocative dual-purpose set/backdrop a prime role in the creation of the symbolic garden. This allows the story to come full circle, revealing the doubling as a gesture toward the idea that no one is who we think they may be - nor who they think they may be. Everyone has a double agenda/identity that they may never fully realize.
Amy Keating, Nancy Palk, Luke Humphrey

In a world of repeated nuclear reactor disaster, run on wars morphing into new interminable combat, the hope at the end of the play – at the beginning and end of each new century – becomes the dream that history’s repetitive nature may in some small way rejuvenate, through reiteration, aspects of humanity. Kushnir has crafted beautiful and moving speeches late in the second act that give glimmers of hope through the possibility that nature may ultimately rise above it all. Wormwood makes no promises for the future, but it does explode stereotypes, turns them inside out, and serves it all up as a way of peeling away layers of idealism, personal perception, and culturally constructed misinformation in order to make some sense of a mind boggling past.