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…