Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Running until January 5th at the Elgin Theatre - 

Do not miss this years instalment of the Ross Petty holiday musical version of The Wizard of Oz. This spectacular seasonal event relies upon powerful performances from the entire cast - with standouts by Michael De Rose as Sugarbum (the stock drag fairy character) and Eric Craig as the Tin Man as they collaborate in a show stopping duet of the iconic pop tune All By Myself

The arrangement of this anthem like song (Joseph Tritt, Music Director), as a kind of call and response duet, gives the performers ample opportunity to reveal their intense vocal powers  by way of a lighthearted oneupmanship that both entertains and surprises delighted audiences during the gorgeous vocal gymnastics occurring between characters. Coupling the fairy with the Tin Man also creates a sly, flirtatious, and seriocomic romantic crescendo for the two characters who find themselves longing for partnership, community, and camaraderie as they traverse that yellow brick road in search to Oz. And Sugarbum's final landing place in the Emerald City is a wonderful twist on power relations and the collective strength of believing in fairies.

Sugarbum with the Tin Man (Eric Craig)

Camille Eanga-Selenge's Dorothy is a wonderful, wise, and wide-eyed characterization as she carries her adorable Toto through a maze of personality and human emotion. Her beautifully delivered solo songs give her great empathy and leadership as she deftly  (frequently putting herself in dastardly danger) manages her comrades along the way.

Camille Eanga-Selenge as Dorothy

Eddie Glen, in dual roles, takes on an Elton John like quality as he sweeps in and out of the action with great comic power and commanding musical vocals. In his stylish emerald green suit he becomes a collage-like version of iconic figures ranging from Elton to Bowie, and at times even a vaguely reminiscent version of a wiggy, orange'ish upswept shadow of Barry Manilow's once riddled presence. 

Eddie Glen (centre)  left - Eric Craig (Tin Man), Matt Nethersole (Scarecrow) / right -Daniel Williston (Lion) Olive (Toto), Camille Eanga-Selenge (Dorothy)

Sugarbum with the Munchkins and Sara-Jeanne Hosie (far right) as Miss Gulch/Sulphura

As necessary backup during the long journey along that famous brick road, the Munchkins are constantly involved in fabulous choreography and song by director/choreographer Tracey Flye - whose skill for filling the stage with intricate dance movement and ensemble action is impressive and complex throughout the whole delightful spectacle.  

Another standout performance comes from Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Sulphura, the sexy foil for all that happens along the way. Her strong layered musical vocals and detailed characterization, with a wicked emotional range, punctuates the action with the conflict necessary to this coming of age tale of a young woman in search of hearth and home in the midst of a terrible twister of emotion and physical challenge.
Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Sulphura)
Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Miss Gulch)

Set and costumes by Cory Sincennes provide bright pops of tone and emphatic cartoon-like shapes that delineate the fantasy-like quality of the overall environment - with dense shades of purple, black, blue, and green sets and backdrops displaying fantastical contrast for the evil moments of Sulphura's loathsome plotting against Dorothy and her friends. The always refreshing 'gay' undertones surface blithely at one point when one of the characters lays claim to the cheerfully citational/liberationist slogan "I am a friend of Dorothy's." Through thick and thin. Aren't we all?

Scarecrow (Matt Nethersole) and Lion (Daniel Williston) round out the cast with remarkable performances that give their loveable characters depth, comic versatility, and musical distinction. And then there is the amazingly well-behaved Olive, in her non-speaking non-barking part as Toto, who is most certainly not in Kansas any longer. She is in a wonderful pastiche of current political Toronto trials, comic interplay, and emotional twists for the entire family to enjoy, grapple, and interact with at this wonderful annual Toronto holiday event. Beautifully rendered this year with a stellar cast, wonderful music, and a version of a great old story updated for contemporary audiences to relate to, revel in and thoroughly enjoy.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018



The current run of Jason Sherman’s Marshall McLuhan late life bio-play, after 15 years of a long stall due in part to the McLuhan estate’s* displeasure regarding Sherman’s take on the communications icons life and work, is a timely (perhaps even more timely than 2003) meditation on all that has happened to the world, social media, and the planet in a decade and a half. 


With the aid of a stellar cast, R.H. Thomson’s intense and impeccable rendering of a man at odds with language due to serious health challenges is at times painful - even frustrating - to observe as the timeline flips back and forth between his early career and his final days. And yet the comedy that the playwright manages  to insert into the script, the ways in which a trio of ‘good old boys' play with pseudo playboy bunnies, puns, and jokes, give the piece a fast paced rhythm and style that clips along toward an inevitable ending. 
All of the players deliver nuanced, break neck performances, with Sarah Orenstein and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster inhabiting standout multiple roles as the women who enter the ‘boys club’ and create formidable counterparts who simultaneously challenge and assimilate among the powers that be. Peter Hutt and Patrick McManus, also in multiple roles, round out the ensemble with distinct takes on the men surrounding the whirlwind of ideas McLuhan stood at the centre of - inserting a humorous  at times standup presence, to a serious drama about popular wisdom, wiles, and wilfulness.

The central position McLuhan continues to hold within communications history is, in a brief scene, lightly challenged by the idea that many minds contributed, while McLuhan’s personality, and his way with written words, coupled with the people who moved and marketed him toward celebrity status, were as integral to the McLuhan phenomenon as the man himself.
Watching a play addressing the monumental impact McLuhan and his cohorts - colleagues - prophets (what have you) have had on public/popular consciousness drives home many points about where current ‘civilization’ is headed. 

If, in fact, the medium is the message, then the Tarragon production, with a moveable set, almost vaudevillian-like appearances behind faux television sets, and tremendous lighting and video design (Rebecca Picherack, lighting - Carla Richie, video designer) brings forward the message in a fully integrated, epic way. The creative team also reveals the effects - onstage - of an industrialized, tech-frenzied century whose still developing/snowballing technologies remain with us as rampant growth both threatens and enhances ‘modern’ life. As the imprint grows the environmental implications increase.
It may be difficult to take a positive message from the dramaturgical proceedings, but overall, the play is a haunting, hilarious, lightly hopeful message about popular fame, the social media, mortality, and marketing in an age and a city where I look out my window, a short stroll from Dundas Square, and all I can see, in Toronto's mini Times Square, are colossal, entertaining and informational examples of McLuhan’s haunting prophesy. A prophesy that, given the milieu he worked within for most of his life (University of Toronto - 1950 to late seventies), may not have been a very prophetic horizon after all - rather, a close look at what he was, by degree, already surrounded and consumed by in a growing urban ‘village’ existing alongside similar global enterprise.



written by Jason Sherman
directed by Richard Rose
assistant director Taryn Jorgenson
costume designer Charlotte Dean
set & props designer Camellia Koo
video designer Carla Ritchie
sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne
lighting designer Rebecca Picherack
stage manager Kate Sandeson
apprentice stage manager Jaimee Hall


“Theatrical magic on stage”
— Positive Lite

Do not miss seeing this powerful performance in its final five days at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. Tawiah Ben M'Carthy's incredible solo skill for bringing a variety of engrossing characters to the stage are enhanced by a creative team, under the direction of Evalyn Parry, as the entire crew brings forward a dazzling array of confinement and liberation (set & costumes by Camellia Koo) through the use of storytelling,  lighting, sound and thoroughly integrated and compelling  live music (Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison).

Given the current and controversial issues being addressed at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre regarding, history, inclusion, and sex positive shows that reveal interactive stories occurring between various communities, Obaaberima is an incredibly fitting production as it takes on the intricacies of multiple identities through the social and cultural gaze of sex, gender and race. In an array of gorgeous storytelling, layered vocals (vocal coach Ausar Stewart), and skilfully and beautifully performed dance movement the current production, after an acclaimed cross-country tour, adds further life to M'Carthy's complex journey through diverse cultural experience. 

running at buddies in bad times theatre until december 9th

Friday, November 23, 2018



Playing themselves, Mary Berchard, Katka Reszka, and Michael Rubenfeld, within a transformative structure that changes each night, display the kind of flawless and intense professionalism and risk taking that one might expect from the form of non-scripted performance that Self-conscious Productions has become internationally acclaimed for. 

There are moments of great laughter and self-examination as Rubenfeld, his mother Mary Berchard, and their collaborator/translator Katka Reszka confront each other with difficult questions, responses, and potentially explosive moments of iconic emotional expression - the mother/son relationship that is the cornerstone of this production - a relationship that finds epic elements in a series of scenes that confront issues rooted in a recognition of the atrocities that took place in Poland during the Holocaust. 

Somehow the performers find great humour alongside empowering pathos as they make their respective journeys, together and apart, through memories and actual sites of trauma. And there is a pivotal candy wrapper, and the potential for sharing a cup of tea, that both divides and conquers, by degree, the central connection between a mother, her son, a friend, and their respective approaches to past trauma, homeland, and Jewish identity. The final product is an incredibly moving journey - at times uncomfortable, at times comic, at times heartbreaking.
The technical expertise, through the use of projections and onstage cameras, adds to the journey in a varied and subtly spectacular manner (Trevor Schwellnuss - Scenography and Technical Director). Coupled with Sarah Garton Stanley's precise direction that has Berchard, Reszka, and Rubenfeld occupying varied spaces that frequently integrate with the scenography, the overall production is a beautifully rendered examination of how memory and physical journeys can give birth to significant moments/lifetimes of self-recognition that companies like Self-conscious productions can share, to profound effect, with international audiences.
And there is the candy wrapper, a wonderfully inventive & interactive narrative device that reveals the differences between varied imaginations and personal approaches regarding trauma and investigation. 

Rubenfeld's persona acknowledges the intimacy of a candy shop moment that his collaborator fervently resists, and then it all comes together as the audience has been effectively drawn in by a simple gesture, and a simple story, that reaches out to many points of empathy and ongoing collaboration with theatre makers and spectators grappling with the ongoing effects of anti-semitism throughout history - effects that must be addressed and re-addressed by artists and audiences as often as possible.


 left to right - Michael Rubenfeld, Mary Berchard, Kafka Reszke

Monday, October 29, 2018



The current production of Secret Life of a Mother is a tour de force of exquisitely imagined solo performance, with superb meta-theatrical interventions by the writer director and co-creators throughout. The simple performative act of including the script on-stage, at times reading directly from it as a brief acknowledgement of the process, yet often abandoning its lettered properties and using it as a tissue-like prop submerged in onstage aquariums acting as metaphors to that first journey from the womb to the outside world, as well as as the frequently isolating states women can find themselves trapped within - ultimately reminding spectators that theatre and performance are a kind of birth, never far from their creator, always changing, and always reminding one how difficult and joyous that originary birth, and the life that follows, can be - for women in particular as they are too often left with the bulk of the 'labor' - before during and after.
Maev Beaty as Maev & Hannah

With the support of Maev Beaty, Anne-Marie Kerr, and Marinda de Beer, Hannah Moscovitch has crafted a very different kind of drama from her previous work. The autobiographical nature is deftly and cleverly split between her and her close friend, Maev Beaty. Moving between the split personas of both Moscovitch and Beaty, Beaty delivers a beautifully layered monologue about the intense joy and fear of bringing a child into the world, and being an artist at the same time. At one point Beaty is called, by Moscovitch, an “Art Monster” who must never feel ashamed that their art might be taking away from their maternal responsibilities. From the vantage point of an audience member and/or ‘fellow’ artist, the responsibilities both artist/mothers take on over the course of this incredible 70 minute performance is a devastatingy beautiful exercise in self examination, poignancy, bitter tears, joy, and comic laughter provoked by some of life’s simultaneously complex /simplest - yet hard won - pleasures.
Beaty is at her usual best as she immediately yet generously lays claim to a script that has been carefully and expertly crafted onstage by Director Anne-Marie Kerr. The use of the two fish tanks - one large one small - creates imaginative and highly effective playing spaces that also stand in as unassuming screens for gorgeous projections of the actual corporeal elements of having a baby. At one point a laptop that Beaty carries around the stage for audience members to see, reveals the extreme physical results of particular moments described in an, at times casual and conversational - at times emotionally fraught and intent upon letting the audience know just how intense childbirth and the ensuing life one holds in the very palm of their hands can be.
A sequence that chronicles an international flight, and all that entails for a pregnant woman, and then in another sequence, a woman with her very young child who also takes on immense theatre, residency, and television projects during these times, is a strong material feminist form of enlightenment for those who just don’t seem to know how big a job motherhood is. 
Beaty’s own story of being at Stratford when her child was very young, doing three shows and learning lines while she had to care for her baby, is not simply a well written tale of descriptive prose, it is also an example of how she always manages to deliver, onstage, a full fledged example of her talent as one of Canada’s leading performers when it comes to creating incredibly nuanced and layered characters. 

Not to give an unnecessary spoiler for those who may not know, but just a hint of a secondary yet powerful solo performance happening in the closing sequence of The Secret Life of a Mother that is both vulnerable, powerful and fully appreciative of the ways in which a selection of women artists have come together to create this incredible performance piece. And by doing so, reminding us of how the tremendous work of artists often coincides with the tremendous work of committed parents attempting to reconcile all of  their life choices through rigorous self-examination and exquisite representation.



Saturday, October 27, 2018

Virgilia Griffith as Billie/She/Her

“Trapped in history. History trapped in me.” 

― Director/Playwright Djanet Sears, Harlem Duet

21 years ago a Nigthwood Theatre production of a devastatingly beautiful Canadian play premiered at the Tarragon Extraspace. Over those two decades the play has become acclaimed internationally and has garnered complex reviews that at times take part in a racist discourse that the play examines through the playwright’s complex and astute way of writing particular histories and staging them in ways that challenge racist assumptions about the theatre;

I remember there was one negative review of Harlem Duet where the reviewer spent a paragraph and a half talking about the white woman who didn't appear in the play, and I'm thinking, that's interesting, that's curious, since the play isn't about white people I think that the review reflected her own discomfort with seeing herself as other, or not central to this story. So it must have been hard for her to relate to the protagonist, who was Black. Until recently, a lot of Canadian plays didn't really have Black people as the central or principal characters, so I think a lot of discomfort is reflected there. Plus, there are some conscious thematic choices that I made in order to encourage people to look at their own ideas on race, to look at their own contradictions.
Beau Dixon as Othello/He/Him with Virgilia Griffith as Bille/She/Her

The current Tarragon mainspace production of Harlem Duet, with two more shows this weekend, is a worthy testament to the timeless quality of this masterwork. Djanet Sears has crafted, through the use of complex musical and linguistic structures, what she calls “A rhapsodic blues tragedy.” The early incarnations of this structural choice, in the opening moments, create a spoken melodic inroad/introduction into what is in store. By the end of the play each character has been given the actor’s dream opportunity of being able to infuse, into this beautifully wrought language, their own immense skill and emotional aptitude. 
the ensemble 

The ensemble, led by Virgilia Griffith as Billie/She/Her, and supported by Beau Dixon as Othello/He/Him, Walter Borden as Canada, Tiffany Martin as Amah/Mona, and Ordena Stephens-Thompson as Magi, create an impeccable cast that moves through this multi- tiered drama - from pre-emancipation eighteen sixties scenes, to 1928 sequences during the Harlem Renaissance, and contemporary Harlem in an apartment located at the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Boulevards. 
Tiffany Martin and Virgilia Griffith

As a prequel to Shakespeare’s Othello, the play stands alone as a eloquent and dire foreshadowing to so much that has come to pass over the past two decades, and beyond. The Shakespearean revisionist element adds an added ominous layer for anyone familiar with the plight of Desdemona once Othello changes partners and becomes trapped within complex dual histories of racist oppression. 

Onstage musical accompaniment - Cello (Cymphoni Fantastique) Bass (Bryant Didier) becomes a powerful component during key moments throughout the narrative. Walter Borden’s second act appearance adds a bittersweet lightness and genuine emotion through the actor’s immense skill at creating intricate vocal and physical presence to each line he delivers. Like the rest of the ensemble, he has taken the playwright’s powerful language and featured it as the dramatic poetry it is meant to be. 

Historically Harlem Duet is a uniquely Canadian play set largely within an American environment, with strong symbolic gestures made toward Nova Scotia in particular in one comical yet portentous line - “I can't take it no more, I'm moving to Nova Scotia.” Sears has referred at length, in a 2004 interview, to the phrase, and how it reflects a complex reference to Canada and Canadian identity.*

With only two performances left don't miss this opportunity to see the 21st anniversary production of a truly timeless play.

Ordena Stephens-Thompson and Walter Borden

photos by Cylla von Tiedemann


*I probably haven't read all the criticism about the play that exists. I've read a piece by Leslie Saunders and a piece by someone else … But what it says about Canadian identity…? I think one of the things that is clear to me is the role of Canada in the play. The play is set in Harlem in New York, and I remember when Winnie Mandela came just after Nelson had been released from prison, when they were still together, and she said that Harlem was the Soweto of America. And it is, it's a central location is the psyches of Black people. Harlem is almost mythological. It's this place where the best and the worst of everything Black exists or has existed. It has an extraordinary history, a rich culture and my relationship to it is borderless, very much like my relationship to Blackness. Harlem feels like another country, not exactly the USA, a country unto itself that I am part of as well.

But in the midst of the play, a character called Canada shows up. The character Canada is in a way a reflection of Canadian identity. Historically, Canada has been known as a place of hope for escaping African slaves and freed Africans in the Americas. You know, we follow the North Star to Canada. However, the character Canada is portrayed in the play as flawed. You know, Billie's father, Canada, comes to Harlem, but he's unable to change her situation, he's unable to make things better for her. However, he does remain a strong symbol of hope in the play, in terms of relationships, relationships between men and women, fathers and daughters in this particular case, but the relationship is still flawed. It's not this ideal father coming to save the day. There's even a phrase that's used in the play that is an actual common saying used by Black people in South Carolina. I've forgotten the quote exactly but it's something like “I can't take it no more, I'm moving to Nova Scotia.”

But the truth about Nova Scotia is far from glamourous. Canada is not Canaan land, but there is hope here. Even amidst the flaws and the criticisms I have of the country, it's the place where I choose to live; it's the place that has the most hope for me. There's a possibility of something here for me.

for the full 2004 interview on Harlem Duet with Djanet Sears;


Thursday, October 25, 2018



In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is…

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Yogi Berra

L-R SASCHA COLE (Isabelle) & AUDREY DWYER (Lee) - photo by Jim Ryce

Director Esther Jun describes Norman Yeung’s play Theory as “a stylish old fashioned thriller that [taps] into contemporary neuroses.” What Jun refers to as stylish, with a gradual build toward psychological thriller, becomes lightly, yet engagingly, bogged down by - in stage practice - theory…Well, that was a mouthful and a half. 

As a very engaging yet frequently wordy play that ultimately cannot - and should not - try to escape its own longwinded discourse (it is about theory after all) the overall effect becomes a frequently dizzying and extremely entertaining interrogation of the ways in which academia can become a hotbed for practical and theoretical implosion.

Replete with an extremely elegant and effective set design by Joe Pagnan, alongside impressive, fully integrated projections by Cameron Davis, the stage acts as the living space for Isabelle and Lee, as well as a lecture theatre and office for the classroom scenes where Lee encounters the beginnings of a very threatening & challenging form of pedagogical interaction. The simple elegance and fast paced changeability of set pieces, crucial to the design, gives the action an incredible ease and flow that alleviates some of the wordiness and allows for menacing physicality to take place as suspense unfolds. 

As a tightly written script about an environment - academia - that depends upon verbal and visual communication Theory becomes an eloquent endgame of word and action. How language is used and how much freedom it affords us has been examined by the playwright in a complex and terrifying way that speaks indirectly to current events that have individuals being removed - and rightfully so - from positions of power when their “lousy language” (to quote/cite Anna Deveare Smith’s transcription from 'Fires In The Mirror') demeans and terrorizes historically oppressed groups. The potential violence that unfolds throughout Theory is a frightening reminder that we live in a global environment where sexual assault, murder, death threats, and potential bombings seem to be delivered, debated, and broadcast on a near daily basis.

Isabelle and Lee, threatened by racism and homophobia, surrounded by students who display levels of empowerment and victimization by their peers, are complicated characters who certainly garner great empathy from spectators. And yet there is no real sense of the kind of class consciousness or privilege that their respective positions might afford them as tenured and tenure track individuals. When Lee encourages Isabelle to play the tenure game that she so successfully won, so they can start a family, Isabelle rebels, by degree. Any audience member (if you can afford a ticket) familiar with an income consistently hovering around the poverty line might feel compelled to interact with Lee’s aspirational outburst by saying “Try living on one big salary why don’t ya!” Tenure and tenure track positions can triple and quadruple (and beyond) economic conditions once compared to people identifying as poor. But there is no real class analysis in a play where one might expect some astute economic awareness to reside. This points to one surprising weakness in the script. It is not quite long enough. Two fifty minute acts with an intermission, instead of one ninety minute go at it, and a slice of mid script gripping suspense and complex privilege pondering could raise the stakes in a thriller that is not quite thrilling enough. One may leave the play with a fearful sense of what could happen, but it is all a bit too gradual and a bit too discursive. Like Hitchcock without the birds actually flying in and doing what their ominous  looming flocks portend. 

But there are some truly scary scenes where one is on the edge of their lecture hall seat as Esther Jun’s effectively harrowing blocking has student and teacher in a kind of verbal and physical sparring. And the visual violence of onscreen hate speech taking place on an unmoderated online message board is a horrifying sight to behold, especially in the wake of a city shocked by the presence of a mayoral candidate with white supremacist affiliations. 

The four younger actors are outstanding and a formidable match for the three other members of the ensemble. Breakneck conversational pacing mixed with brief snippets of lecture hall scenes make for a diverse dramaturgical structure. A brief standout performance by Fabrizio Filippo as a concerned supervising academic creates an authentic sense of the authoritative liberal straight looking straight acting white male alternately mansplaining and doing damage control around the role of the academy in a troubled student’s life. Filippo injects vocal nuance and detailed physical mannerisms into a scene where the institutional pressures of making it all work for the good of the university become infuriatingly transparent, stylish, and maddeningly gestural. 

Sascha Cole as Isabelle, the threatened tenure track film studies Prof, gives a layered performance that quickly and effectively moves from composed and self-assured to a kind of empowered fragility when the threat of violence actually appears. Audrey Dwyer’s Lee is a strong varied portrait of a woman who has fought hard for her position of power and knows how to succeed within a game of academic cat and mouse. The rapport between the two women alternates between warm romantic interactions and bouts of mild to hot hostility when their lifestyle and marital/familial hopes are challenged by their differing teaching methods and their diverse subject positions regarding race and sexual identity.

The recipient of the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Award, Yeung’s script has had a long journey from developmental productions (Summerworks) to the Alumnae Theatre Company’s FireWorks Festival, and Rumble Theatre’s Tremble Festival. The current Tarragon run is the premiere professional production. 

In practice, Theory is definitely worth seeing. In theory, it is a densely written, challenging piece of theatre that is being given a wonderfully entertaining and thought provoking production for anyone interested in the frequently enlightening, often inflammatory interactions between - yes - theory and practice.

THEORY runs at the 
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace 
until November 25th