Sunday, May 19, 2019

Kyanite Theatre presents George F. Walker's AND SO IT GOES

                                                        In the 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut used the phrase "So it goes" as a transitional phrase to another subject, as a reminder, and as comic relief. Generally the phrase was used after every time someone's (or something's) death is described or mentioned in the novel. - wikipedia

In the light of current inhuman cuts to a variety of crucial provincial services, the current Kyanite Theatre production of George F. Walker's And So It Goes (2010), is a fast paced, darkly humorous, and very timely (although almost a decade old) production focused on the effects of economic crisis and mental health issues. 

Citing the famous quote from Kurt Vonnegut in his title, Walker subtly sets his audience up for a smug, potentially joyless ride through great despair. However, the layered writing, finding hope within hopelessness, and the powerful performances, make the play into a wild, witty, bitter, yet darkly uplifting lesson for these increasingly difficult social and economic times.

cast/production photos by John Lundy

l-r Deborah Drakeford as Gwen, Scott McCulloch as Kurt Vonnegut

Another quote from Vonnegut's prolific career comes to mind, and lives on a beloved fridge magnet of mine - "We could have saved the earth but we were too damned cheap." Walker's script reveals just how intense capitalism becomes as it interferes with the lives, loves, and livelihood of a once middle class family fallen on hard times - and the ravaged planet they try desperately to survive on.
detail from my fridge magnet collection

Dan Willmott as Ned

Deborah Drakeford  and Dan Willmott give wonderful performances that play with both manic energy as well as a subtle, understated and always successful grasp of the fine line Walker, as playwright and director, demands from his characters as they gradually reveal an underbelly of emotion and insight that simultaneously saddens, amuses, enlightens, and entertains. Both Drakeford and Willmott manage to balance perfectly a finely tuned sense of enraged frustration and supreme disappointment, without going over the top into an overstated fear and anger that their situations could provoke. You can sense the depth of their agony, as they navigate a layered script that demands the subtleties of devastation as it sinks into the character's psyche, yet ultimately brings them together in a kind of necessarily muddled yet satisfying denouement. Their fine delivery and physicality lends a fast-paced tone to each act, in particular a second act that moves swiftly toward its culminating moments.

Scott McCulloch as an imaginary Kurt Vonnegut residing within the minds of the floundering couple, creates a whimsical, impish'ly energetic sparring partner for his hosts - racing across the stage with a vivacious stride, and engaging with Gwen and Ned (Drakeford & Willmott) with the wit, charm, empathy, and slight frustration that rounds out the best of imaginary friends with a fine credible quality in the midst of mayhem. McCulloch also manages to bring a sense of Vonnegut's presence to the role through his simultaneous seductive, attentive, and mildly comical, dishevelled appearance in a pivotal 'homeless' sleeping bag scene with Gwen (Deborah Drakeford). Directed within a tightly blocked, casually intimate framework, the scene adds to the complicated emotional mosaics both Walker and Vonnegut create in their work. 

Tyshia Drake's Karen, as the struggling daughter, creates a complex and varied emotional landscape for her character to move in and out of as the rigours of her particular diagnosis demands. Walker's great skill as both director and writer reveals his great insights and abilities regarding the need to populate a stage with a panoply of articulate wordplay and a strong sense of inhabiting the entire visual arena of magic and mayhem with energy and explosive narrative. The choice of music throughout (Jeremy Hutton, sound designer) - seamlessly punctuating scenes and creating effective transitions between varied episodic moments - lends an informative melodic lyricism to the events that unfold over the course of this enthralling two act (one intermission) 120 minute work. Well worth seeing as a reminder of Walker's impressive body of work spanning over four decades of Canadian theatre and television.

Deborah Drakeford (upper) with Tyshia Drake (lower)



Monday, May 13, 2019


The opening moments of Welcome To My Underworld, in the hands of Grace Thompson (playwright & performer) paves the way for a series of stories that ultimately become a diverse and powerful sampling of all of the stories that may have been unavailable to her character had it not been for a vivid imagination and a relentless curiosity to embrace worlds that at first glance may seem very different than the one she inhabits. A complex Canadian landscape, replete wth a myriad of global experience, comes alive throughout the ensuing two hour (one intermission) powerhouse of storytelling and exquisite performance.

The first story, written and performed by Bilal Baig, takes on an elegant, subtle, and unassuming desperation and poise as a young adult faces the challenges of entering a cold landscape and a threatening cultural milieu that does not always welcome mutliplicitous gender experience. 

When Baig emerges again, the initial narrative stream that has been skilfully created throughout, takes on an intensely moving tone as elements regarding recent Toronto trauma, contained mostly within the 'queer' village, are written and performed with smouldering emotion and beautifully crafted, poetic writing. The details are not included regarding an obvious connection to the Bruce McArthur murders, but the ways in which Baig has written and performed those narrative strains takes on an inclusive and powerful tone ranging from the love of a victims mother to the sexual practices of an oppressed community of varied queer consciousness. 

Bilal Baig

This intense tone is consistent throughout in the hands of all of the playwrights and performers as the central narrator, played beautifully by Grace Thompson with varied emotion and youthful empathy, come together as individuals experiencing very different social and cultural situations, and yet uniting with a strong sense of empowerment learned thorough vulnerability and often accidental camaraderie.

l-r - Rhada S. Menon and Samson Brown

A particularly moving moment of tragicomic camaraderie shines through as Rhada S. Menon and Samson Brown embark upon a kind of Driving Miss Daisy interaction. Both performers solidly inhabit the contrast between a distressed and agonizing bewilderment regarding the present and the past (Menon) interacting with a solid and supportive driver detachment (Brown). When they reach their destination the poignancy is lightened with quick, well crafted comedy regarding the frustration of being relegated to bingo binges in late life abodes. 

This moment connects beautifully, perhaps unconsciously, to Bilal Baig's final plea regarding a fictionalized identity that finds them in an unexpected locale, rather than the initial claim made at the beginning of the play. Perhaps an unconscious connection, and yet, nonetheless, an example of how all of the stories move outward, and then back again toward an initial impulse to find resolution, or lack thereof, within each individual's compelling life force and their foreboding social, geographic, and cultural sites. 

The unifying notion of an 'underworld' bears metaphoric connections to the idea that all of the subjects being represented are speaking of the parts of their lives - (the undercurrents and the undersides) - that have been marginalized by age, ethnicity, sex, race, and gender - and how this 'under' aspect, this marginalization, can become a way of becoming one's own positive driving force within a single lifetime. A force that may move them form the underworld and not their own sense of being on top of some of life's greatest obstacles.

Grace Thompson

Carolyn Hetherington embodies the idea of life force as an elderly woman taking control over her greatest challenges within a severe medical challenge. Hetherington deftly handles a storytelling moment as she ifs effectively directed to rely on a script as well as move away from it during more performance oriented moments. A mixture of recited/read storytelling and performative/memorized acting blend well as she moves across the stage, and then into a dominant comfort zone delineated simply by a welcoming armchair where many of the performances ultimately rest. Director Judith Thompson has managed to bring all of the stories and all of the performances together in a way that occupies the stage in an enlivened and constantly varied manner.

Carolyn Hetherington

Maddie Bautista

In a varied character monologue, infused with great clarity and a myriad of voices, Maddie Bautista gives a striking virtuoso performance as she describes everything from sexuality, menstruation and the dominating presence of a powerful and severe - almost austere - educator character whose warnings are shot through with grave empathy and concern, despite her frequently and welcome serio-comic presence among the intensely arresting characters and narrative forces that Bautista brings to life with great power and entertainment value.

Similarly, Samson Brown delivers a wonderful and varied monologue whereby voices are expertly delineated and a sense of community and struggle are moved toward though the strength of a fine varied performance.

Samson Brown

Nicoletta Erdelyi

Nicoletta Erdelyi rounds out the diverse cast with a wonderful sense of moving beyond the supposed confines of physical challenge and infusing the experience with a sense of playfulness, sensuality, and self empowerment. Her blocking throughout the narrative engages the performance with a joyful sense of bodily movement as self empowered choreography.

Olivia Shortt (musician, composer, sound designer) supports the entire ensemble with beautifully sparse yet evocative sound and musical accompaniment that punctuates word and emotion with great clarity and simplicity, aided by the Monica Dottor's precise choreography that unites word and gesture with subtle grace and symbolic intent.

Judith Thompson has assembled a fine selection of writers and performers by creating a series of interwoven narratives that both stand alone and come together as a powerful tapestry of human  global experience, based frequently within Canadian settings that simultaneously transcend the specific, yet embrace designated location in powerful, entertaining, and enlightening ways.



In 2015, prior to the fall of Weinstein, Cosby, and the agonizing exoneration of Ghomeshi, the prophetic Erin Shields wrote a play. Beautiful Man came out in a fury and Erin approached me to help get it to the stage as soon as possible. We pulled in all our favours, assembled a gorgeous cast and creative team, and six months later its first iteration hit the stage for a week at SummerWorks.

Andrea Donaldson, Director's Notes

There are times, during the approximately ninety-minute running time of this bold and brilliant show, when one might wonder where the dramaturgical premise is going, and when will it stop - kind of like being trapped in the middle of a mansplanation diatribe usually deployed by the testicular sex. And that is perhaps the point, and it is made to grand effect. There is plenty of ball and boner talk in this scathing #metoo infused play as Erin Shields turns the gender specific tables and has three women engaging in an at times bawdy, often eloquently written piece for these troubled gender divided times. 

A powerful set by Gillian Gallow creates a stark white, confined, and objectifying platform for the women to sit in front of, on stools, and create a distance between them and an impressive specimen of manhood that they seem to be describing, and yet setting him apart from particular narrative strains. 

A complex dialogue, part storytelling and part conversation/response ensues, creating a slight sense of The Vagina Monologues, but in Beautiful Man the performers are shuffling body parts and performative attitudes in order to show audiences what it might be like if we were used to hearing women talk about men in the way that some men talk about women. The effect is provocative and ultimately a hauntingly hilarious exercise in gender/sex politics.

...after growing up surrounded by theatre in Hamilton; getting introduced to Judith Thompson and Daniel MacIvor as a teen through an instructor at Theatre Aquarius (“You can write like that?” she remembers thinking after reading Thompson); and studying in a conservatory program at London’s Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama...

intermission magazine -


A mixture of Judith Thompson's seering social insights and Daniel MacIvor's immense talent for storytelling shines through as Shield's work reflects these mentoring forces from her early exposure to theatre. 

In Beautiful Man she makes these techniques her own in an intense and frequently electrifying manner, shot through with bold, elegant writing where each word, sentence, story, response are seamlessly representative of the controversial subject at hand. 
l-r Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez 
- Jesse Lavercombe above in 'white box'

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, and Sofia Rodriguez display impeccable timing and comic finesse as the triumvirate of conversational comrades who tell a story framed brilliantly by reflections of television violence and real life 'career/role' playing. As they do so a 'beautiful man,' played by Jesse Lavercombe moves through powerful and elegantly directed movement and emotions (Director - Andrea Donaldson) and becomes the exposed body that speaks very little, beguiling spectators in the end with a brilliantly performed background role and a mesmerizing extended denouement of sorts.

A slight problem with the extended final moment might be described as a paradoxical element that both draws away from and gestures toward all that has come before, and yet the high quality of the performance, introduced by three equally powerful performances, boldly carries one through to a gripping, open ended finale. 

Richard Feren's sound design and composition, with vague hints of a kind of Game of Thrones harrowing lyricism, effectively infuses the overall environment with a strong sense of just how high the stakes can become within otherwise domestically inclined relationships.
The piece could be trimmed by a quarter of an hour, giving all of the performers a little more breathing space from what at times becomes a lot of descriptive story/narrative that has been 'man'splained already. But of course, isn't that the nature of mansplaining - the menacingly shallow reiteration of particular points - and part of the point of a play that reverses roles and sheds light on gender inequities and aggravations? At least in the hands of a gifted playwright like Shields we can laugh wildly without being rebuked, condescend to (what have you) by some raging hunk, or lack thereof. 

When Lavercombe's beautiful man portrayal shares an example of this, from the perspective of an accomplished young woman, he does so through the dramaturgical format of a subtly layered and powerful climax. Rather than experiencing it, we are poignantly and powerfully told about the sheer frustration many of us may have felt in the presence of a marginalizing, mesmerizingly mind numbing storyteller in the throes of telling the feminine/feminized subject precisely what 'he' thinks. Lavercombe's presence (like Shields script) and his delivery manages to engage without overwhelming through the bland reiterative impulse that often comes with that ever so complexly gendered term 'mansplain.' This 'Beautiful Man' attracts without subjugating, bringing forth hauntingly layered and reflective gender moments and mishaps, within a powerful script, for both men and women to witness and to renegotiate. 


Thursday, May 9, 2019


WRING THE ROSES, as part of the RISER PROJECT, currently running at the Theatre Centre until May 14th, is an exhilarating hour of explosive movement and thought provoking text concerning the struggle of mixed ethnicity and gender trying to survive within a complex urban and social milieu. 

The central theme, concerning a young woman's (and her circle of friends) questions and concerns, on the threshold of matrimony, are a little muddled in this dynamic performance, and could use some tightening and clarification regarding the identities being addressed in order to avoid the potential for over-simplified identity portrayals. And yet the power of the performances, coupled with the primary and profound importance of the play's quest, alongside the precise and invigorating movement, moves the overall piece into a promising and exciting form of performance theatre.
photos by Lyon Smith 
ensemble; Amanda Cordner, Eric Rich, En Lai Mah, Brefny Caribou 
 Eric Rich, Amanda Cordner, and Brefny Caribou


The ensemble of four young performers interacting is seamless. Playing various genders, each performer brings life - both satirical and realistic - to a cast of characters on the threshold of adulthood and striving to define their diverse positions. 

The music is integrated with impeccable timing and the costume changes become part of the overall chaos and interrogation - bringing forth many moments of intense and entertaining dance. At times, while the rest of the ensemble is changing in shadowy areas offstage, a single performer takes the stage and turns their visible costume moment into a form of exuberant choreography infused with energy and wild abandon, suiting perfectly the youthful, at times manic theme of the piece. 
Amanda Cordner and Brefny Caribou 

There is a particularly memorable scene between En Lai Mah and Eric Rich as they switch gender with agility and great allure. A combination of great fun, playfulness, and poignancy permeates their smouldering and superb performances as they become sudden potential paramours in a risky emotional setting. 

Their flirtation is both endearing and provocative as both performers embody, with humour but not mockery, intense masculinity and femininity with great dramatic and comic skill. Along with the rest of the cast, they maintain a relentless and entertaining energy throughout, with no fault lines emerging within their varied performances over the course of this hour long roller coaster ride of potential love and conflicted camaraderie.

En Lai Mah
Amanda Cordner (Performer/Playwright) delivers a powerful speech regarding the struggle to negotiate a 'blurred' ethnicity, bringing the central struggle to a fine peak of emotional fervour. This kind of narrative device could have been clarified al little earlier, as there are times when the intensity of the movement and the scene changes dominates some of the narrative import within the fraught and celebratory nature of this 'girls night out' that moves toward a conflicted ending - wrung roses and raw emotion in tow.

Brefny Caribou takes centre stage in a strong and moving moment nearing the end, instilling her overall performance as the central 'bride to be' with an impressive anger and contained physical presence. 
Eric Rich

Given the format of this sixty minute fast-paced rhythmic work, commingling with a finely tuned expressionistic collage of music, performance, dance, and fine acting, WRING THE ROSES is an extremely promising piece of theatre that could be developed further into a longer more conclusive work about significant issues around identity, ethnicity, gender, and emerging sexuality.