Monday, April 29, 2019

After acclaimed performances in Melbourne, NYC, Halifax, Edinburgh and Ottawa, Old Stock; A Refugee Love Story, a collaborative creation by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan, and Christian Barry is currently running at the Tarragon Theatre until May 26th. 

On the surface this is a simple and brilliantly crafted cabaret-like spectacle that has the kind of raw seamless energy that comes from captivating musical through lines and superb performances. Beneath the paradoxically smooth and richly layered surface of a traveling show (beautifully designed by Lousia Adamson and Christian Barry) lurks the intimate, often tragic details - in musical segments framed by the unfolding dialogue between the central characters. And there is always joy and great hope, within the spoken and sung narratives, and yet they never shy away from the heart breaking details of the devastating pogroms of the early twentieth century.
Ben Caplan as The Wanderer
Ben Caplan, as an emcee/commentator of sorts opens the show with his powerful vocals, gradually moving into the gorgeous nuance and variation his voice skilfully provides. Caplan's formidable presence never lets go, bombarding the stage with a presence that might have overpowered the central performances had they not been so engagingly pitch perfect in the hands of Mary Fay Coady and Dani Oore, as the romantically inclined couple moving through great trauma in order to find a new home in Canada. At one point Caplan's breathtaking and moving song as the rabbi inserts an extended moment of great spiritual beauty at the heart of this tragic yet hopeful journey.

The title of the piece refers to Stephen Harper's thinly disguised racialized remark when he referred to "old stock" Canadian identity, acting as a narrative framework that articulates the trials and tribulations of coming to a new country that continues to possess racialized and religious phobias that still mark the 'Canadian' social and political discourse.

The spoken dialogue, always framed and punctuated by Caplan's presence, tells a detailed familial story that both praises and critiques Canada's historic presence as a refuge for immigrants - yet continually fraught by tragic incidents throughout our diverse national history.

Coady (as Chaya and the violinist) gives a moving and varied performance as she slowly welcomes her shy yet eager suitor into her new life. Oore (as Chaim and on woodwinds) plays the smitten and gently insistent paramour. As the couple move into each others hearts and souls their song and varied emotional rapport reveals the layers of family trauma that have marked their complex refugee love story.

At one point a former paramour's tragic demise becomes a provocative and effective layer of conflict and humour for the new immigrant couple. The span of generations, powerfully  inserted into the overall narrative, reveals the detail and nuance of Canadian identity as it embraces the joy and the profound loss of decades of ongoing international conflict, refuge, and religious and political engagement.

 l-r - Dani Oore (Chaim, woodwinds), Mary Fay Coady (Chaya, violin), Ben Caplan (The Wanderer), Jamie Kronich (drumset), Graham Scott (keyboard and accordion)

Halifax, 1908: two Romanian Jews stand in line at Pier 21 in Halifax, would-be immigrants to an unknown country. Chaim is alone – his family didn’t make it out; Chaya carries her own secret losses. But the New World is giving them a second chance, and they embrace it to the fullest. Narrated by The Wanderer – part showman, part rabbi – this Klezmer rock concert/theatre hybrid stars genre-bending sensation Ben Caplan and is inspired by the real-life story of playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents.
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch, Directed by Christian Barry with Songs by Ben Caplan & Christian Barry*
“A hugely engaging experience” – The Guardian

The Guardian’s Top Recommended Shows (2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

★★★★★ “Emotionally engaging, visually stunning and at 80 minutes leaves us still wanting more.” – Musical Theatre Review

TOUR STOPS Halifax, Ottawa, Edinburgh, Edmonton, New York, and Toronto


Wednesday, April 24, 2019


We are living through a glorious gender revolution and this play roars the language of that revolution.
Judith Thompson

Judith Thompson – Dramaturg and Director

For the last 2 years, I have sought out, stumbled on, and commissioned extraordinary short plays from emerging playwrights whose words have knocked me out. Our mandate at RARE theatre has always been to serve communities that are rarely heard or seen on our stages, and so I found nine playwrights; each from a marginalized community whose voices had barely been heard, and whose characters had hardly been seen. How could I present nine one act plays without finding a golden thread which connects them, and in fact, turns them into a whole? I could not resist the challenge, and the company embraced it. 

Thirty years ago when I began my career, I was riding the crest of the wave of new Canadian work, work that was unafraid to feature local characters and settings the audience knew.  Tough and bold writing such as mine, Brad Frasers, Tomson Highways, was embraced. However, there was little representation of voices from the queer community, particularly the queer and trans people of colour. We are living through a glorious gender revolution and this play roars the language of that revolution.




Nine blazing hot works written and performed by new Canadian dramatists with gate-crashing ideas, delicious poetry and unique characters woven into a spectacular journey to the Underworld, in search of the self.
These hot new Canadian dramatists bring gatecrashing ideas, serious politics, and fresh bracing language to the stage. They have created current, compelling characters never seen on our stages before, showing us how the very concept of human identity is shifting.


Soul pepper website:

the playwrights; 

Bilal Baig, a queer Muslim artist; 

Ellen Ringler, who has navigated the mental health system; 

Nikoletta Erdelyi, a young poet who uses a wheelchair, 

Radha S. Menon, a brazen South Asian British Canadian playwright; 

Grace Campbell, a fearless writer, performer and visual artist living with a disability, 

Maddie Bautista, a Saudi Arabia-born Filipino theatre maker and composer/sound designer; 

Simone Dalton, a queer Trinidadian-Canadian playwright; 

Samson Brown, is a self described, Jamal Of All Hustles, with a primary focus on trans advocacy and the arts; and 

Carolyn Hetherington, an 89 year old internationally acclaimed actress who has proven to be an extraordinary playwright.



Artistic Director of RARE Theatre Company, Judith is a playwright, director, actor and professor of theatre at the University of Guelph.  She is the author of 15 published plays, many of which are performed all over the world. They include The Crackwalker, Lion in the Streets, Perfect Pie, and Palace of the End. Her play Who Killed Snow White, premiered at the 4th Line Theatre in August, 2018. She has directed and co-created four plays with artists with exceptionalities including Body and Soul, Sick, RARE, and Borne  Most recently, she wrote the play Wildfire specifically for 7 performers with Down syndrome, all of whom had appeared in Rare. She wrote two feature films, Perfect Pie and Lost and Delirious, several TV movies and many radio plays.  She has twice won the Governor General's award for playwriting, as well as the Toronto Arts Award, a Dora Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, and the Amnesty International Award for Freedom of Expression. She is honoured to have the privilege of collaborating with performers with exceptionalities.
some thoughts on their work from some of the playwrights 

Radha S Menon - Playwright/performer



Award-winning animal-fanatic playwright, Radha S. Menon was a working actor in British Theatre and television. She moved to Canada and learned how to make films; but returned to her theatrical roots to explore the use of heightened language. In addition, Menon is an award-winning art director for indie and art house films and has an M.F.A.  in Creative Writing at University of Guelph.
I am exploring humanity’s need to separate itself and create dominion over the animal kingdom, including the commodification and complete exploitation of non-human animals. The brutal practices of factory farming must end; if we don’t recognise the rights of these sentient beings and this global exploitation of animals remains unchecked most wild animals will become extinct within 50 years. This will be man’s worst crime yet.  Additionally, the socialization of many traditional South Asian girls (not exclusively) remains much like the practice of animal husbandry. We are trained with the carrot and stick to be obedient and docile, pushed to marry young that caters to selective breeding, which has resulted in a skewing of the natural sex ratio in India and China. I believe that toxic masculinity and violence against women is a direct result of religious dogma that supports gender bias.

I was most fortunate to have Judith Thompson as not only my drama professor during my MFA, but also as my thesis advisor. I have learned so much, being guided by this artist’s incredibly formidable mind, experience and distinct humanity. This process has been a boon; I spend so much time alone, writing, stuck under a rock that being able to collaborate with all the wild and wonderful artists, make new friends and be exposed to so many ways of thinking and working has greatly expanded my horizons.


Maddie Bautista – Playwright/Performer



Maddie Bautista is a Saudi Arabia-born Filipino theatre maker and composer/sound designer. Acting Credits: The Girl in My Nightmares Wear White (SummerWorks 2016 Spotlight Award for Performance), Hannah in Paradise Comics(Filament Incubator), and Ming in a workshop of COMMON (Studio 180).
I started to write my piece in 2016 in my last year of Humber College. Before leaving the school, everyone training as a performer was to create a 15-minute piece about something that mattered to them, or something that they were really excited about. I decided to write about my 14 years in Saudi Arabia and what it was like to grow up there.

I miss the land and the people and the music and the food so much. There's nothing like eating Saudi's best fried chicken in the heat of the desert, surrounded by a Filipino community who decided to call that place home. I'm from Jeddah - by the way. My piece Jeddahwi - is an ode to my beautiful and flawed community and family. What my community hides and sweeps under the rug is the Underworld, and the story is told through the eyes of a 10 year-old girl.

Judith has immense trust and curiosity for all the writers on this team! It has been an affirming process so far. It has been an honour learning from so many other gifted playwrights in the development process, especially as a first-time playwright. It doesn't get any less daunting to create, but it's very affirming when people trust your work.


Simone Dalton - Playwright



Simone Dalton is a writer and social change communicator. She holds an MFA from the University of Guelph, where she received the Constance Rooke and Board of Graduate Studies Research Scholarships. A work of creative non-fiction, her thesis explores themes of grief, sense of belonging and place, race, class, and inherited histories. Her work has been published in The Unpublished City: Volume I, a 2018 Toronto Book Awards finalist curated by Dionne Brand, and is forthcoming in the anthology, Black Writing Matters. For two years, she was the co-host of Guelph’s Speakeasy Reading Series and recently completed a residency with Firefly Creative Writing studio. Simone lives in Toronto and was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago.
My creative work, thus far, engages a fair amount grief. Sometimes it is through ancestral memory or inherited histories, but often it is simply about loss. These preoccupations can bring up the underworld, the place of the dead, in a physical sense. For Welcome to My Underworld, I was more concerned with what we bury. Vows, my piece in the production, asks what do we leave unsaid, undone, and who/what remains as a result of the silence?

A look of awe is standard every time I tell someone about the vision behind the project, about collaborating with eight other writers, each with disparate, yet thematically connected stories. That's the power of Judith Thompson. Working with her on this production has been a gift. She helped me develop precision in my writing and think differently about what is possible with theatre. 


Ellen Ringler - Playwright



Theatre is a new adventure for Ellen and she loves the depth of creative muscle on which it thrives. As a graduate of the English and Theatre Studies MA program at the University of Guelph, she was given the opportunity to study the theoretical components of theatre and improvisation, while beginning to write and develop her own narrative voice.

I wanted to share my perspective living with severe mental health issues, because it is what I know very intimately, and it is often invisible. I also wanted to make visible my own privileges in receiving treatment for my illness by reflecting on things I have witnessed as injustices within the mental health system. In this way these things are my “Underworld”; the hidden side of me that is ill and the many flaws in the mental health system. 

Collaborating with Judith Thompson and these wonderful playwrights has sharpened my editorial skills and allowed me to feel truly safe in a creative environment. 


Sharmylae Taffe-Fletcher – Lighting Designer


Sharmylae is an emerging theatre artist with a passion for lighting that spans her entire life. She is a recent participant in Obsidian Theatre’s Mentor/Apprentice program. Other theatre credits include lighting design apprentice for The Wild Party (Acting Up Stage), Death of the King (Modern Times), Ultrasound (Cahoots Theatre), as well as lighting designer for Bleeders (Watah Theatre, SummerWorks 2016), Letters to the Universe(Buddies in Bad Times), She, Mami Wata, & the Pussy WitchHunt (Watah Theatre), Pose Ball (New Ideas Festival) and Finding Temperance (The Muddy Mary Project). Thank you to her supportive family and friends.
I wanted to be able to give each piece a distinct feel while keeping the show cohesive. We agreed on the forest as a shared location, and include green, leaves and branches in various ways in lighting. In each piece, we have used the theme to come up with visual cues that will hopefully enhance the story each playwright is trying to tell.

The challenge with this show has been making sure that the colour story is both cohesive for the show as a whole and distinct for the individual stories. I've changed my mind a few times on which way to go! But the rest of the team's work on the show has given me a reference point to turn back to when I'm full of doubts. 


SAMSON BROWN – Playwright/Performer



Samson Brown is a self described, Jamal Of All Hustles, with a primary focus on trans advocacy and the arts. He uses the arts (acting, tap dancing, playwriting, stage and production managing) to create visibility for men of trans experience and to educate the general public on trans issues. 
I wrote my piece thinking about the things that are often not said by trans bodied folx. One of the things that are not often said, is the issue of safety around public bathrooms. Often when conversations around trans bodied folx and public bathrooms is discussed, the focus has been on transwomen and their experiences and less on transmen. In general when discussions are had about trans bodied folx, the discussions are often based around transwomen and/or white identified/privileged folx and are 97% focused on the American experience. So to hear about one experience from the Black transman community in Canada, I felt was important.

This opportunity has helped with deepening my collaborative work since I predominantly work on my own, both as a writer and also as a performer. So learning from Judith with collaborative work has been great. Being able to tell my story in my own way is a great feeling and I'm always grateful for any opportunity to do so. 


Bilal Baig – Playwright/Performer



Bilal Baig is a Toronto-based playwright, actor, devised theatre creator and producer. He is an OAC Playwright- in-Residence at Theatre Passe Muraille, a member of the Emerging Creators Unit (ECU) at Buddies, as well as The Foundry at Factory Theatre. Bilal is also part of a collective that has created an online space (and offline spaces too) for queer + trans south asians called
My impulse to write my newest play, Kitne Laloo Yahan Pey Hain, was deeply rooted in my frustration with how the media sells us ideas that when trans folks and people of colour are killed, that their lives aren't worth remembering with all their nuances and rich complexities. And how we - as a culture - whether we like it or not, buy into these harmful ideas from time to time. As I'm becoming "more visibly trans", I also wanted to write about what it feels like to live with a daily fear of being killed.

It's been such a privilege working with a theatre hero of mine. Judith was a pivotal force in my playwriting journey six years ago and has supported my work ever since. It is very exciting working so intimately with her as well as such a dynamic group of loud, outspoken, passionate and loving artists.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Angelique _ Factory Theatre

playwright Lorena Gale

Lorena Gale's proposal in reimagining and embracing the legacy of Angelique is to place her and the story in a world where now is then, then is now. Through the backdrop of 18th Century, Nouvelle France, she asks us to recognize the cyclical and systemic nature of the oppression inflicted on people stripped of their power - those who are discarded, silenced, and ultimately tortured for their otherness.

An epic setting, (designed by Eo Sharp) giving performers and musicians the space to both separate and unite -  to even climb above the chaos of their segregated locales - gives Lorena Gale's powerful drama room to breathe and allow for a kind of brutal cathartic experience to take place in the theatre. Directed by Mike Payete with an acute eye for inhabiting and enlivening many playing spaces, the play takes on a sharply woven set of blocking tableaus and levels of action for meditative rage/response to be enacted and fully realized.

By combining historical moments seemingly far apart, yet so close, Gale's tightly woven script reveals systemic racism as a connected web spanning centuries within Canadian culture. Ultimately becoming an intense and sobering insight into both change and the deadly ways in which change takes far too long to happen, and then seamlessly turns inward upon itself to erase some of the meagre steps forward. 

Begging the question, does supposed change simply clothe itself within yet another dangerous economic structure? Capitalism and the rise of the iron industry figure greatly in this complex drama chronicling the life of a single woman of colour, spanning centuries in a realist fantasy of sorts. This melange of historical events becomes embroiled within the intricate layers of industry, domestic labour, and inter-racial romance. Ultimately abandoned by all of these formidable barriers/relationships, she rises out of the 'fires' (both literal and figurative) she is accused of creating. No spoiler intended, and yet the symbolic/realist nature of this play is, in its final moments, simply put, about the often futile attempts to burn it all down and start anew.

Angelique is a timely national drama as we find ourselves enmeshed within harshly divided current events around corporate scams boiling over in the Prime Ministers office, a young man of colour dying in an Ontario prison within days of his incarceration, and the ongoing and maddening struggle to address the rights of indigenous peoples, rights infringed upon daily by the disrespect and political maneuvering we see around land claims and the murder and/or disappearance of indigenous women. Issues that have yet to be addressed and afforded significant change  on a federal or provincial level.
And yet, for all its sharp and moving political power, the current production of Angelique at Factory Theatre is also a beautifully realized staging of an important transhistorical play. 

In the lead role, Jenny Brizard brings incredible grace and intensity to the plight of a young woman trying desperately to attain personal freedom - embracing community, and yet retaining her right to love whomever she chooses. As her romantic interests weave in and out of the narrative - both chosen by her, and foisted upon her - Karl Graboshas as Francois, Olivier Lamarche as Claude, and Omari Newton as Cesar, reveal the two-faced charm and possessive force of misogyny as it moves in and out of the pivotal sub-narrative, and plays forcefully and deceptively beneath the central motif of the play; History... History in all its convincing formations and way of representing profound diabolical change. This sense of history is the main culprit in this drama as we are gradually convinced that capitalism is the ongoing wound - and the raging fire that tears it all down is the only real fiery salve-cum-solution for many disenfranchised subjects.  

PJ Prudat's (Manon) monumental musical vocals - framed by an effective understated performance - performed from the heights of an elevated space, ring expansively throughout an open set that makes the mainspace at Factory Theatre loom larger than ever before. France Rolland as Therese portrays a stoic power and manipulated cruelty as she stands her very fraught ground within a dominant white male ruling class that places its women on the botton rung of an impossible and insidious romantic/industrial ladder/equation. 

Sleazy male power, in bed and in business, creates fleeting sympathy for a white woman (France Rolland as Therese) who lapses into an ultimate betrayal of the women of colour who are placed below her in an ongoing cultural scheme of racism, sexual abuse, and violently enforced servitude. 

A musically diverse and full orchestra (Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble, original composition) looms above the action, enforcing a constant and seeing accompaniment/punctuation for all that occurs below - providing haunting, at times discordant and shattering commentary on the spoken narrative. 

Chip Chuipka as Ignace is the pivotal older white ruling male who becomes the glue for the other men to become intricately stuck within. His intriguing and abject persona seethes and convinces with skilful power and manipulative motivational force.

ABOVE - Olivier Lamarche as Claude with Jenny Bxrizard as Angelique

At one point, midway through the performance, an audience member abruptly left the theatre, clearly distressed by what was happening onstage. Audible enough, as she exited, to be heard saying "this is too much for me." The representation of racist language that hinged upon the moment she left the theatre, is indeed harrowing, triggering, and brutally uncomfortable, and drives home the fact that this has occurred, continues to occur, in public settings on a regular basis - from the 1700's (the early period of the play) until the present. 

Some progress has been made, and yet destruction and unsolved murder within marginalized settings continues as we struggle within a stolen nation that may never come to terms with its own systemic atrocities. Atrocities committed in the name of frequent colonialist/corporate/industrial 'progress' and the unfair ownership of stolen human bodies. Angelique is a dire warning, a saddening reminder, and a timely call to action for theatre audiences to witness and to respond to...


Wednesday, April 10, 2019


Johnnie Walker's Shove It Down My Throat is a truly epic piece of 'queer' theatre. By taking a relatively recent incident of violence and subsequent incarceration, and turning it into a broad, meta-theatrical example of the ways in which history has tackled identifacatory language and physical prowess over the past century (or so), the playwright has crafted an eclectic and powerfully dark 'comic' drama about individuals trying to stay afloat in a sea of potentially misidentified words and acts. 

And yet it may be misleading to label this as simply queer theatre, as many identity terms move throughout this two and a half hour play (one intermission) and prey relentlessly upon our current sense of 'proper' pronouns, 'proper' behaviour in the face of violence, and 'proper' social responses to the many variations on a single story (see april 3rd blog post for the story behind the play, Bateman Reviews). And it may be difficult for many to negotiate all that is proper and potentially 'correct' in current culture as notions of woke, trans, queer, gay, non binary, gender fluid, bisexual etc. swirl in a significant storm of personal and political choice. But in the end, Walker's highly entertaining and thought provoking play provides prescient insight into where we may steer ourselves as we confront each example of homophobia, racism, misogyny, transphobia (etc etc etc) that shamelessly and all too frequently enter our lives.
By locating much of the action in a replica of a Buddies In Bad Times Theatre dressing room, replete with vintage posters, some audience members may find themselves taking a trip down memory lane as Walker's recurring theme of the ghosts that inhabit our lives, onstage and off, find theatrical representation in a flawless cast of characters performed by an impeccable ensemble. 

Seven performers take the stage and produce a seamless high-energy set of superbly staged scenes aided by rapid-fire sound effects, lighting, and set changes that are a testament to a complex multi-scened script that demands precise performance skill in order to succeed. And succeed it does as director Tom Arthur Davis deftly moves his actors through broad, distinct spaces defined by simple and effective set pieces. There is an almost Angels In America feeling to the many locale based settings, beginning in the poster laden dressing room and moving across continents and cites in order to discover the 'true' meaning of a single act of intense and harrowing violence, acted in several variations by the ensemble with impressive choreographed movement and performance agility. These moments draw skilfully on a dark comic kind of tableau, framed beforehand by a form of campy humour that contrasts and relieves the tension with remarkable, theatrically uncomfortable, and highly effective precision..
The cast is too numerous to mention individually, and there is not a weak performance in the pack. Highlights come from Heath V Salazar as their multi-gendered and high energy, intricately layered style of physical, vocal, and emotional prowess enters the stage from below and weaves throughout the cast and the narrative with a measured form of wild abandon. Salazar's performance and character bring six men together, in a sense, in order to reveal the political, social, class, race, and gender distances that exist  between them. 

Johnnie Walker, as writer and performer, accentuates the overall meta/epic quality by inhabiting the role of himself as he journeys through the creation of a script that he began to explore several years ago. One decidedly sexual scene with Kwaku Okyere combines elegantly and sensually placed blocking alongside dialogue that imagines the body as both city and continent, challenging a white Canadian individual's perceptions regarding the geographic qualities of perceived racialized identity. Okyere's presence, as he delivers a strong, sensual, and confident retort to Walker's queries, deftly anchors both bodies within misidentified notions of two American cities (Boston and Atlanta) divided by class, climate, racial definitional modes, and stereotypical perception. Again, an Angels In America quality emerges to great effect as the union of two characters raises epic considerations regarding nationhood and race. And yet, Shove It Down My Throat stands alone, apart from my perceived allusions, as a significant new play that may find even more diverse expression in future productions. 

Walker's presence onstage anchors the premise of this form of documentary theatre through his agile talent as someone able to speak directly and effectively to his audience while creating a believable, sympathetic, entertaining, and engaging character. Director/producer Tom Arthur David and producer Jivesh Parasram, in their collaborative program note, succinctly interrogate the "Doc-theatre" form and add significant details to consider in the overall quest to explore meaning through language, physicality, and forms of theatre -

"And so the question we return to on this project is whether or not this is in fact documentary theatre. Is it a conscious queering of the form, by its active engagement of liminality?...What we can say, is that this is an artistic rendering of a process of investigation. The truth of its subjectivity exists within its attempt, and perhaps failure, to achieve order out of chaos." 

Ultimately, SHOVE IT DOWN MY THROAT achieves exquisite order and chaos as scenes move seamlessly in and out of each other, both mystifying and enlightening, supported by an ensemble and a production team with a fine sense of staging, performance skill, and a frequently serio-camp form of drama that both moves and entertains. And finally, in a very personal sense, warms the heart of this old queen who loves to see young divas at play in a drama that brings generations together in a quest to conquer the worst kinds of fear and power...