Friday, October 30, 2015


photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Gord Rand’s new play, The Trouble with Mr. Adams, deals with very troubling issues around inter-generational desire and pedophilia – issues that are never fully resolved. And this may very well be the point of the play – the unresolvable, blurred lines that occur between socially unsuitable paramours when the facts are distorted for the sake of legal efficacy and potential, blighted triumph.

Allegra Fulton, as Mr. Adams lawyer, epitomizes this need to ‘contextualize’ the truth in order to get her client out of very hot water as she brilliantly delineates a character deeply entrenched in careerism and legal terminology. She convincingly plays off of the self-assured darkly comic bravado that Chris Earle, as Mr. Adams, so expertly portrays in this very unsettling and deviously mannered script.

Out of the blue dialogic quips and quirks come out of the mouths of Mr. Adams and his teasingly enraged wife in an opening scene that makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf look like a polite little squabble. Overt sex becomes a daring and unsettling game whereby the deceived wife suddenly bounces into the sporty attractiveness of her spouses’ very young love interest. The playwright sets up an almost psychodrama scenario from start to finish where we become voyeurs to very private, very questionable moments of all too human reaction, interaction, and re-enactment.

Philippa Domville, as Mrs. Adams, delivers a superbly mannered performance that moves from rage to seduction to bemused calm and self-assurance as she lays out a potentially unfortunate future for her philandering hubby. Mr. Adams is a volleyball coach, and the bouncy team sport becomes a metaphoric receptacle for Rand’s speedy back and forth dialogue. The volleyball ultimately takes on the role of a gilded, mysteriously managed prop that gains full import just before the end of the play.

There is never a dull moment and the performances are impressive, with an extremely convincing portrayal of the young woman. Sydney Owchar portrays Mercedes McPferreridge – the star volleyball player – with a fine sense of teenaged innocence as it moves subtly and self-assuredly into the arena of young adulthood. Director Lisa Peterson has taken a dynamic script and infused a breakneck, well conceived pacing and expansive blocking that provide the perfect rhythms to match the highs and lows of this highly dysfunctional drama.

One leaves the theatre wondering whether this is a play about ‘real’ characters or a very clever, skilful, entertaining, and deeply disturbing exercise in highly strung verbal warfare whereby the lead role, and the three women he so deeply affects by his boundary-less behaviour, say and do things they have no fully-resolved understanding of or freedom from. Adams unevenly coaches them all in his wide-eyed arrogant manner, and in the process seems to gain little to no complex understanding of his own actions. All of the characters appear to be trapped in a seering form of social panic that none of them can fully escape, making The Trouble with Mr. Adams an eighty minute roller coaster ride of anything but light entertainment. And yet, somehow, entertaining nonetheless - due to Rand’s immense skill for surprising, clever dialogue that jumps at you time and again with sudden self-assurance and darkly comic strains that create the kind of muffled, half-embarrassed laughter one might feel when confronted with the fear of one giant, unresolvable taboo.


Saturday, October 24, 2015


Solitudes solo                                        


five raw sentences, one pure thought

“A choreography is literally built upon the dancer’s backs, their shoulders, abdominals, quadriceps, knees, and with their souls, moods, temperament, doubts, intelligence, courage, and generosity.”
Daniel Levéillé  - upon receiving the Prix du CALQ (Conseil des arts et des letters du Québec, 2012/13)

Opening with a robust bout of very physical dance, Daniel Levéillés' Solitudes solo, as part of the Danceworks 2015/16 Mainstage Series, is overwhelmingly true to an elegant sense of complex form following varied repetitive - yet intricately varied - function. Five dancers present a series of broad powerful dance phrases that feature the body as punctuating receptacle for individual prowess and corporeal beauty. Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin embrace the singlehanded virtuosity of the choreography and the execution. Twenty minutes into the sixty-minute program and one may begin to long for something a little less committed to one consistent thread of muscularity and half-naked, firmly planted limbs and follicles moving majestically through a variety of truly impressive arms, legs, torsos, heads, and mid sections that possess the uncanny ability to weave in and out of themselves and create, at times, puppet-like fluidity that has a moving sculptural quality about it. And this may very well be the point of Solitudes solo as run-on sentences are broken by the commas and exclamation marks of new bodies - until all of the bodies appear together and reveal the continuity and complexity of five syntactical figures as one beautiful paragraph.

In the opening solo legs become the pivotal body part that plants each new gesture finely within the expansive, sharply defined square playing space. Each dancer replays this fascination with our walking parts as simple underwear like costumes reveal the body as a mutli-faceted landscape of bump and crevasse, sinew and complex syncopated wordsong. The music/grammar metaphor may provide a way of seeing each solo as a version of the phrase that comes before. One female dancer (Esther Gaudette), among four men, breaks that syntax with a varied form and reveals the complexity of repetition and limb obsessed phrasing as a way into the solo as a subtly diverse component of the overall ensemble. Dancers strategically enter the space as their disconnected counterpart leaves, gracefully and emphatically taking the stage and replacing one singular sensation with another – not so unlike the body that came before and yet a refreshing look at a similar form of flowing, finely crafted flesh as movement.
Diversity takes a subtly driven back seat until one sinewy body appears in bright white underwear, running the risk of becoming a moving Calvin Klein tableau of cloroxed proportions. And yet the agility and elongated limbs, contrasting the stockier bodies that comprise half of the ensemble, further explicates the narrative of this beautiful assemblage of ensemble inflected, repetitive, and glorious solitude.   

Very near the end the recognizable and uniquely beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel  Kamakawiwo’ole inserts a surprising contrast to the classical score comprising most of the program, and ends Solitudes solo with a faint, almost ringtone version of the iconic song as it gently flows in and out of the final moments. Almost disappearing at times, these beautiful vocal and ukulele infused strains give Solitudes solo an ironic and insightful quality that both puzzles and amuses, entertains and enlivens – working its way into our hearts like the seeringly beautiful run-on sentences of Bach’s brilliant, soothing, and direct violin solos that have come before.

The same body that begins the program ends the program – in a sense quoting all the preceding phrases - punctuating them with yet another version of the same virtuosic rhythm and melodic musicality of the forever gesticulating verbal muscularity of the boldly silent body…………………………………………………………  


Friday, October 23, 2015

photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

The current re-mount of Tarragons 2014 hit An Enemy of the People, translated by Maria Milislavljevic from Florian Borchmeyer’s German adaptation of the original Ibsen, is strangely anti-climactic during this post-trauma daze of a liberal majority sweeping us into the unpredictable heady daze of Canada’s second coming of Trudeaumania fanfare. Having been blown away by the political power of last year’s production I was expecting even more clout this time around. And yet, Ibsen’s simple and direct message about communities floundering dangerously at municipal levels, at the hands of federal prowess and neglect, lacks the details we are waiting, with baited breath, to see manifest themselves – or not – in the coming Canadian wintry months.

Nevertheless. The production still possesses very impressive theatrical strains, yet weakens slightly in light of current political mayhem and the threat of trans-pacific overtures.

The lead role of Dr Stockmann, this time around played by Laura Condlin, renders the script somewhat more gender divided, and yet the change is slight as the characters are all at the mercy of underdeveloped emotional back stories, thereby extracting the detail of Stockman’s same sex relationship from a script that might have saw fit to add a little more domestic drama to the intensely political plot.

Condlin delivers a very layered and idiosyncratic performance with effectively manic vocals and powerful drive. Rick Roberts – reprising his role as Stockmann’s handsome and obnoxious brother matches his sisters vitriol and prowess with fine emotional characterization and engaging charisma that makes one see very clearly how an extremely attractive politician can worm his way into the fabric of community consent.
David Fox as the elderly conniving oligarch  creates a sinister and highly entertaining portrayal of Dr. Stockmann’s father-in-law  as he represents an odd lurking harbinger of profit and doom. Tamara Podemski as the pregnant half of the same sex Stockmann couple plays off her spouses frenetic political energy with power and tenderness - and yet a misplaced sexualized moment mid -play is never reprised and renders the character a little plotless and inexplicably compromised. Kyle Mac and Lyle Smith flesh out the ensemble with the frenzied ever changing liberal panic that punctuates the drama with the necessary layers of dystopian hopelessness essential to this realism’ic portrayal of current political warfare.

The musical sub narrative, utilizing an old David Bowie favorite acts as a recurring lightning-like motif within the rock band within the play device, and reminds viewers that all political ch ch ch ch change can reside within the predictable flip flop from lib to con and back again - so prevalent in this country. The music is entertaining and breaks the depressive political action as a refreshing strain now and then, but could be much further developed as part of the community narrative that never fully surfaces in this manifesto of highly charged rises, falls, and uncivilized, mind boggling rationalizations.

A lengthy scene mid play becomes a harrowing testament to just how far civilizations seem to have fallen into a pit of regurgitating corporate compost in the last century or two  - or more – as culture continues to freshen and de-freshen all we claim to hold dear – from family to food, health, leisure activity, and the glistening dubious beauty of cheap bottled water. Ontario’s not so distant Walkerton tragedy and the ever-increasing Californicated aridity of lawns and luxury loom large within the meta-cultural-message of the play. The brilliant giant chalkboard set by Michelle Tracey sets the tone for the whitewashed easily erasable theme of political dishonesty as titles and messages are posted in chalk then washed away and obliterated - with the messenger - as quickly as they have been proclaimed.

Director Richard Rose creates a tsunami like ebb and flow with Rick Roberts at the helm with his explosive performance. Condlin fights back with unflinching power and gained public support in the inter-active townhall scene mid-play that had, the night after the election, spectators challenging every neo- liberal word that came out of the male municipal leaders mouths. The bleak message of the play is surprisingly tempered and distempered by the town hall segment decrying the merits of growth  and liberal majorities that frequently do not in fact represent real change - rather, a remaining of the status quo that simply looks like change yet continues to threaten the core of society – in this case- WATER. On tuesday night one viewer impolitely and fervently asked the male actors to “shut the fuck up” for a few minutes in order to enjoy a much needed silence - and to hear more from the lone politicized woman as she spoke her mind before being edited and prefaced by corrupt manly voices.
An Enemy of the People is a timely remount in a city and a country that has endured years of political intrigue, now standing at a threshold of a new majority that may – or may not – deliver the real change a thirsty continent needs in the face of future drought, contamination, and ongoing social mayhem, change, and delight tra la....

I’d love to see a musical version…


The current production of Linda Griffith’s rousing and elegantly hilarious The Age of Arousal, running at Factory Theatre until November 8th, sports a perfect ensemble of five women and a single man. Before the play began I told my theatre companion that there were no men in the cast, having unfrugally forgotten the lone male member from the last production I saw of the show. As Everard Madden, (insert the invisible ‘h’ - Ever hard - and according to the script, he often is!) Sam Kalilieh holds his own with a strong, smouldering sensuality and a powerful tenderness as his character acts as romantic foil of sorts to a quintet of feminist minded gals hell bent upon making there own way in a culture less than half a century shy of historic female emancipation – the vote! With our own strained voting structure having flexed its flawed muscles very recently one cannot help but see just how far we’ve come and just how far we’ve receded while watching Griffith’s brilliant historical dramedy as it races wildly through the ways in which single lives are shaped, doomed, celebrated, and refreshened by particular left’ish political strains that take lifetimes to materialize and can be washed away with the stroke of an imprudent parliamentary pen.
 Set in a typing school run by a powerful and destabilized lesbian couple, the drama is brilliantly conceived as characters are allowed to voice their inner thoughts in the midst of dialogue - adding a delightful comic mayhem to the ways in which individual personalities impolitely feel about their polite daily struggles. Sprinkled with bawdy interior thoughts and concise dialogue the script moves through direct plot driven scenes that excel through simplicity and rich historical acumen.
All five women possess a formidable skill for moving in and out of interior thoughts as director Jennifer Brewin’s blocking and physicality has allowed them to create - on a mostly bare stage – a dark expansive atmosphere paradoxically filled with lightness and laughter - the perfect
punctuating force for the very serious gender warfare at hand. Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Marie Beath Badian, Leah Doz, Juno Rinaldi, and Julie Stewart give layered, idiosyncratic performances that presents that rare ensemble creation where all performers shine individually and holistically as they share their talent for comedy and tragedy within this brilliant vehicle for feminine – and masculine – agency in the same body at the same time. Gender is proven both fluid and stalwart as three sisters and two lesbian’ish women fight for their rights to support themselves and each other.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Modernism, European Models & The Buffalo Jump

Opening Thursday October 15th, Kent Monkman’s The Rise and Fall of Civilization, a ballroom sized installation at the Gardiner Museum, gives one the sense of walking into a huge diorama and being challenged by the history of Modern Art as it intersects with colonization and the one dimensional flattening of indigenous visual and cultural representation. Recent facebook postings had one astute viewer referring to on aspect of the monumental work as the love child of Julian Schnabel and Pablo Picasso. And yet one might suggest that Schnabel and Picasso could be considered – through the gaze of an historically inclined reversal - the precocious modern/post modern love kiddies of artists like Kent Monkman as he continues to turn art history inside out with his revisionist epic strategies that reveal how indigenous culture has been utilized and modified by non indigenous artists.

During a media preview Monkman spoke briefly of his experience as a young man growing up in Winnipeg and seeing the idealized depictions of indigenous life in the Manitoba Museum - dioramas that still exist today. He expressed his concerns, past and present, regarding the actual circumstances many indigenous people continue to experience, and the ways in which history has distorted this through visual images. Walking out of that museum in Winnipeg, and then seeing first hand what indigenous people were actually dealing with – and continue to deal with - has made a lasting impression on his outlook and his work as a painter, sculptor, and performance artist..

Particular forms of European modernism, in the hands of artists such as Picasso - as a way of seeing the world through non-European cultural forms - have frequently flattened images found within other cultures – extracting originary meaning and holding the modified image up as a problematic representation of the cursed cultural faux category known as ‘originality.’ Picasso’s brand of cubism utilized African masks as a way of delineating his response to human forms, specifically the female nude who frequently sports (in some of Picasso’s paintings) a mask-like face atop a fractured, multi-planed nude body (e.g. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon) - providing a viable arena for feminist and race conscious critique. Monkman has attempted to show this fractured movement from one form of representation to another through a simple yet complex four-tiered visual essay of sorts. His crisp, finely delineated installation elegantly fills a large gallery space at the Gardiner and gestures, through its sheer size, yet minimalist placing of each discursive stroke, both the monumental and the miniscule. The room is vast, giving spectators plenty of physical space in which to perceive the grandeur of a huge cliff like structure where a mannequin represents Miss Chief Testickle, Monkman’s ‘drag’ clad performance persona. The cross-dressed two spirited figure stands between two Buffalo about to be herded off the edge of the cliff.  Monkman’s previous appearances as Miss Chief Testickle have included costumes referencing contemporary figures such as Cher in her all white aboriginal influenced ‘costume’ for the song ‘Half Breed.’ Replete with mammoth feathered headdress and form fitting white attire, Monkman entered on a horse in the large atrium area of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the ROM (2007). He proceeded to deliver a performance/lecture, with slides, on the colonization of indigenous cultures through visual representation. These epic performances have placed him at the apex of a brand of entertaining, enlightening and scathing Canadian Performance art as it addresses particular cultural issues. Another Monkman installation, at the Manitoba Museum, re-imagined the relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger as a fateful love affair.

A catalogue from 2010, The Triumph of Mischief, chronicles early post millennial exhibits where Monkman’s performance and visual styles meshed into an epic re-telling and re-visualizing of indigenous history and colonization with a decidedly homoerotic gaze (e.g. Artist and Model, 2003, Si je t’aime prends garde à toi, 2007). The homoeroticism in the Gardiner installation exists only insomuch as Miss Chief appears as a glamourous and sexy two-spirited persona. But the European models (e.g. - modernism and Delft-like china) are semi-metaphors, rather than the very physical, buxom, half naked, frequently blonde men that populate some of Monkman’s huge canvases where non-white paramours turn the tables on colonization - and sexy muscle bound white colonizers - in a decidedly carnally inclined manner.

The Gardiner installation focuses on the Buffalo Jump as metaphoric properties toward
the ways in which the practice of herding Buffalo can be likened to particular
movements within art history. And yet, Monkman’s version of the jump also represents
the actual violent decimation of the Buffalo population by European settlers.

The installation moves through a series of tableaus;

1/ a representation of two Buffalo (with Miss Chief standing between them)
atop a cliff where life-like representations of the powerful animals stand firm

2/ one of two still animal figures is mirrored, mid air, as a less life like cubist Buffalo,
being herded into death

3/ and then the landing of the Buffalo is represented by a pile of broken, mostly
white china, placed on the floor just beyond the foot of the cliff. White handlebars and
Blue Delft-like porcelain bicycle seats (reminiscent of; Bull’s Head, bicycle seat and
handlebar, Picasso, 1942) re-fashioned by Monkman as stylized Buffalo Heads are
scattered among the broken china

4/ and finally, rising from this heap of dead fragile whiteness are one dimensional tubular
steel sculptural representations of the Buffalo – a summarizing gesture toward the visual
flattening of ‘borrowed’ images from indigenous art and culture, as well of the full scale
killing of Buffalo herds in the 19th century

Miss Chief Testickle presides over the whole process from above, in an elegant fringed
two-piece bright red costume designed in collaboration with Monkman by Izzy
Camilleri. The drag persona, Monkman suggests, poses a complex question within the
current Gardiner installation.  Is ‘she’ and ‘he’ encouraging this forward movement, or do
‘they’ stand as protector against a problematic progression away from original
indigenous meaning, import, and cultural practice.

The Buffalo Jump, as a complex strategy for hunting, turns in on itself when one
considers the history of destruction incurred by European settlers who took part in the
widespread decimation of the Buffalo - to the extreme detriment of essential hunting
practices. And yet, the playful is always present in Monkman’s work (the tickle
in Testickle)  as it commingles with sharp incisive critiques of colonization.

At the end of an interview in the 2010 publication (The Triumph of Mischief) Miss Chief
Eagle Testickle provides a brief playful response to questions regarding the presence of
the Trickster in Kent Monkman’s complex, skilful, astute, and playfully multi-discsplined

CM: I was wondering, are you a trickster?

MC: Well, I don’t know if I’m a trickster. I have certainly learned a lot from the trickster.

CM: Because tricksters shift shape…

MC: I wish I could shift shape. I’d lose another ten pounds! I’ve learned from the Trickster, though I can’t really say I am a trickster. In my own very small, humble way of trying to achieve a balance I borrow from the trickster spirit, and I think that it helps me to achieve this balance.

CM: I have one final question for you, Miss Chief. How on earth do you ride horses in seven-inch heels?

MC: That’s how I learned of course, I don’t know – some people put spurs on, and I just use my heels!

CM: Any final words, or thoughts?

MC: Well, I am always looking for new models. So if there are any European males out there, please present yourself to me.

CM: Thank you Miss Chief!

Cathy Mattes (CM) and Kent Monkman as Miss Chief (MC)


Ironically, complicated elements culled from the history of colonization have given us museums like the ROM, the Gardiner and the Manitoba Museum – among many - where all of the craft and sensibility of centuries of visual skill and culture can gather - and war and play amongst themselves.

Don’t miss the grandeur of Monkman’s critical and visually stunning critique as it continues to unravel history in glorious multi-disciplinary forms.