Saturday, October 26, 2019


Factory Theatre production

You ever see snails make love?

It's the eve of twins Sugar and Grace Ducharme's 30th birthday and the 10th anniversary of their parents' deaths, the local Scrabble Champ Stripper has gone missing, and mysterious drifter Trout Stanley arrives looking for love...and a lake. Experience the wild, touching, and hysterically funny play that took New York by storm from Governor General's Award-nominated playwright and novelist, Claudia Dey, returning to Factory's Mainspace 14 years after its Toronto premiere at Factory. A story of Northern Proportions, Trout Stanley is about the secrets that bind us and finding love wherever you can. And snails. 

“Trout Stanley is a deliciously lyrical piece of Canadian Gothic” – The New York Times


l-r Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Shakura Dickson, Natasha Mumba

There are significant references, in the director's and playwright's program notes, that reveal the incredible journey that Claudia Dey's acclaimed play Trout Stanley has taken since its premiere at Factory Theatre in 2005. This journey ranges from a German opera production with Trout sporting a floor length beard, to an Edmonton Fringe production as recent as 2013. 

These references/clues also reveal the ways in which this mesmerizing - at times bewildering - play can lend itself to a variety of adaptations. In the current production director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu speaks eloquently of growing "up in BC in the pre-internet 90s era with two sisters in an extremely close knit African immigrant family." She goes on to say that when she first read it the themes in Trout Stanley immediately spoke to her, and "struck a sweet, and deep chord" surrounding issues of "co-dependence , isolation, and the fantasy of finding love in the most unexpected places."

"Working with a cast of all black actors has been a joyous experience in terms of exploring this world, and this language from a first generation African Canadian immigrant lens."

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu (director's program notes)

All of the elements of this widely known play, from Quill & Quire, to NOW, the National Post, and the New York Times (2006) culminate in a 2019 production that brings a whole new perspective to what past responses have called an example of 'Canadian' - at times 'Yukon' Gothic. 

And Gothic it is, as semi-surrealist dialogue and verbal roller coaster rides through deeply layered metaphoric/symbolic monologues create an intriguing pastiche of sight and sound. The published script does not appear to suggest a 105 minute journey without intermission. The current production tests our bladders and souls by presenting - intermission-less - all these words in an extremely comic, at times harrowing ramble through dysfunction, melancholy, and the sudden intervention of romantic love in the body of Trout himself - a lithe, bearded and delightfully engaging character in search of a climax. 

But this production doesn't really provide one- a climax that is. Instead it delivers a panoply of gorgeous images and a convoluted escape from the 'dump' of life, crafting the overall experience into a frequently puzzling word journey sporting the symbolic absence of a glamorous, scrabble playing, missing woman. In the end this leaves a great deal to the imagination - an imagination that could have been better supported by more visual effects. 

A large collection of figurines crafted by Sugar Ducharme (one of the twins) lines the uppermost regions of the set and is enhanced by moments of very focused lighting, achieving some of the fraught symbolism that the play hinges upon. This sculpted element suggests an absent cast of back-story characters that have simultaneously embraced and ignored the art and the presence of these co-dependent siblings - ostracized and traumatized by life events and community detachment.
Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, as Trout, takes on a manic, endearing quality as they deftly love & leap, with great physical agility, bringing vibrance and depth to the title character. Shakura Dickson and Natasha Mumba, as the extremely non-identical twins, match their beautiful, initially interloping 'house guest's' physicality and tragicomic emotional investment with great nuance and engaging, sisterly camaraderie. 

And yet the overall pacing of a layered mise en scene seems off as breakneck vocal pacing, sets, direction, costumes, and lighting tend to over-excitedly blur it all into a lack of aesthetic focus for a script that hungers for visual delineation and sharply conceived emotional clarity. The combination of quickly delivered, hard to follow monologues, set within a  beautiful and very naturalistic room (unlike past sets that have skewed the playing space and suggested surreal'ish qualities at the outset) tends to overshadow the performances at times. This allows the dramaturgy precious little time to breathe within as it becomes somewhat scrambled, rendering many of the essential words and phases a melange of unclear language. Dey's language may be served better by a more expressionistic performing area, slightly slower pacing, and focused spots of light for specific speeches and interchanges, as well as a crucial, perhaps Lawren Harris 'ish  faux/true north strong, free graphic quality  - chaotic, detached, and looming over the action in a way the suggests the intense colonizing forces that fictitious 'national' images (i.e. Group of Seven) have had us labor under for decades - and decades and decades. 

As it stands, lone faux evergreens peek into the sides of interior domesticity and never really address the frequently wild isolation of the north that the theatrical environment truly needs in order to come across as deeply co-dependent, fantastical  and isolating - all of the qualities the director has tried to find, with varying success, in the current production.  

Gothic needs to be haunting, but this production of Trout Stanley, although at times comic, poignant, always energetic, and often highly intriguing, never reaches the eerie, haunted climax of language and visual presentation that the narrative insinuates. More high pitched gothic elements  might allow the text to shine brighter within what begins as an engaging domestic dramedy trapped in the semi-wilderness, and ends as a somewhat unfulfilling escape from unspecified chaos and magically surreal, somewhat bewilderingly alarming familial dysfunction. Like a run-on sentence of strangely unraveling cultural cacophony and pseudo-decolonizing campy'ish critique.

And yet, ultimately, the opportunity to see a production of a 'Canadian' play that continues to be thought provoking, acclaimed, and currently produced with a keen eye for diversity within a vast country that continues to hunger for that mythical national identity, is well worth witnessing. 

In any incarnation, the text of Trout Stanley must attest to the surreal, at times terrifying, and darkly funny experience a considerable number of Canadians - north south east and west - have come to know, to understand, to under-identify, and to underestimate.


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

What begins as a rather banal, absurdist cocktail party conversation very quickly becomes precisely what Ionesco may have had in mind when he wrote The Bald Soprano close to seventy-five years ago. 
The Theatre Francais de Toronto production of this absurdist classic is a superb rendition of a truly mesmerizing  dramedy. Ionesco rejected the label absurdism, preferring The Theatre of Derision, which is perhaps a more apt way to describe the comings and goings of the four primary guests in a finely decorated living room behaving like Albee's George, Martha, Honey, and Nick - but with a fast and furious edge that makes precious little sense yet delineates class consciousness and behaviour in a wild and manic manner. Ionesco's influences included Beckett, Kafka, & Jarry, while Albee was one of many famous later playwrights (Stoppard, Durang) influenced by Ionesco's menacing way with words, and Theatre Francais de Toronto has crafted an exquisite production of this form of complex verbal warfare.
The sense to be made of this comedy of ill-manners gone awry is crafted beautifully by director Chanda Gibson through  impeccable blocking and attention to robotic at times frenzied physical movement. The ensemble pulls it all off with incredibly intricate and individual performances employing amazing skill and breakneck timing. Each performer has created a distinct character within this magnificent melange of idiosyncratic attention to the details of everyday life - ranging from items available at the neighbourhood market to the goings on of an eloping horoscope'ing pope.  
A run-on speech by the fireman (Sebastien Bertrand as the captain of the fire brigade), nearing the end of this 75 minute tour de force is mind boggling and vastly entertaining - raising already high-pitched acting stakes and preceding a climactic finale of symphonic proportions that each and every actor fulfills with great finesse and and immense physical prowess. 

Pseudo-polite and unflinchingly bewildered partiers become uncaged animals only brought down by the comically, operatic, and chilling presence of a maid's gate keeping presence whose gong show prop provides a pronounced counterpart to a mantlepiece sporting a piano metronome that clicks continually throughout. 
 Alexandra Lord's set design and Yvan Castonguay's costumes compliment and contrast perfectly, creating a mildly minimalist playing space shot through with delicately chosen colours that both blend and shout out as the action develops. All of the characters take on a subtly cartoonish aspect as sharply cut blazers, frocks, uniforms, and the billowing sleeves of an especially elegant orange gown take the stage and allow the ensemble to clarify and contain each and every superbly executed word and movement.

Sunday, October 20, 2019



Simultaneously bewildering, fragmented, seamless, quirky, and breathtaking, Matthew Mackenzie's The Particulars, similar to his epic play Bears, is led by a lone protagonist surrounded by a dancing chorus of lovely and menacing creatures. 

In this incarnation these exquisite bodies beautifully manipulate the main characters dramatic trajectory as they embody a bevy of diaphanous gender cloaked 'fairies' - buds blossoms angels gorgeous insects - what have you - in a tragicomic romp through the details of everyday life, trauma, coping, and gardening mayhem. 

Simon Bracken's Gordon is an ordinary fellow trying to fit into the gayly heteronormative, secretly porn invested world that his job demands. As Bracken wanders the stage in a loose dressing gown, exposing, covering up, and generally parading his lovely physique here and there, a rippling well toned chest in tow, the overall effect becomes a singly costumed nightwear fashion show of surreal proportions, leading to a denouement and finale that one could never have expected.

Previous productions and promo photos have Gordon wearing 'normal' business attire. The change for the Theatre Centre production renders the  complicit yet hapless victim of skewed heteronormative chaos more fragile, vulnerable, and easy to sympathize with. 

Bracken combines the loose, revelatory clothing with a contrastingly stalwart, almost satiric tone and sharply sculpted, deeply endowed vocal delivery. His phrasing and movement is brilliant, with elements of distractingly effective timing and seemingly random, silent muttering that moves in and out of traditional theatre blocking and direction - ultimately striking one as a dizzying tour de force of acting nonchalance-cum-precision.

Similarly, all of the dancers embody some of Gordon's worst fears as they mourn and run amok amongst  domestic upheaval. They surrond him, circle him, and generally give his playing space a formidable tragi-comic world to frolic, romp, to revile, to live, and to be demolished within. 

Choreography by Alida Kendell begins as a deceptively simplistic accompaniment for the entrance of the man of the hour, yet quickly develops into the sometimes tragic joke of contemporary existence as intricate dance movement - both comically and tragically - beautifully punctuates each and every harrowing particularity involved. And then there is the final unveiling that represents social-sexual disorder at its most predictable, damning, and truly poignant.

The Particulars attests to the intricate workings of a 21st century struggle to stay alive within the ever growing dissonance of the same old social gardens, jungles, offices, hierarchies & particular details that can render life both hilarious and chilling, arboreal and urban.

running at the Theatre Centre until October 26th  

The Particulars is the darkly funny and subtly powerful story of one insomniac’s struggle to maintain a daily routine in the face of a home invasion. Performed as a fusion of dance and theatre, Gordon battles his invaders on two main fronts—in his home, where he believes he is dealing with a vermin infestation, and in his yard, where insects have invaded his garden. 
By day, Gordon forges systematically ahead, assiduously in control of every aspect of his life. But by night, the scratching which he has begun to hear in his walls is unravelling him, driving Gordon to the edge of cosmic desperation. 
Theatre critics across Canada and in New York have been unanimous in their praise for The Particulars.  Called “Smart, strange and stirring,” by the New York Times, “profound” by, and “a revelation” by the Montreal Gazette.
Written & Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Choreography by Alida Kendell
Stage Management by Kai-Yueh Chen
Set & Costume Design by Alison Yanota
Lighting Design by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Production Management by Trent J. Crosby
Produced by Sheiny Satanove

Featuring performances by:
Simon Bracken as Gordon
Chorus dancers include Amber Borotsik, Lara Ebata, Bridget Jessome, Richard Lee Hsi, Krista Lin, Rebecca Sadowski and Kate Stashko.
Performance Dates
Approximate running time: 75 minutes
Thursday, October 17 – 8:00pm Opening
Friday, October 18 – 8:00pm
Saturday, October 19 – 8:00pm
Tuesday, October 22 – 8:00pm PWYC
Wednesday, October 23 – 8:00pm
Thursday, October 24 – 8:00pm
Friday, October 25 – 8:00pm
Saturday, October 26 – 1:30pm
Saturday, October 26 – 8:00pm

DANCEWORKS PRESENTS Dancers of Damelahamid: Mînowin


 Dancers of Damelahamid: Mînowin

"The crust of the earth was soft, the light was twilight and there was no running water. A hand reached down and picked up some clay, breath took the clay to the four corners and wherever it landed we awakened." The Dancers of Damelahamid

Based in the ancestral knowledge of the Gitxsan ("people of the river of mists") Mînowin is a lush and varied display of gorgeous contemporary choreography and traditional dance movement and rhythms. This seventy minute tour de force, utilizing richly conceived projections, and a combination of offstage soundscapes and beautiful onstage vocals, the overall presentation was at once mesmerizing and haunting.

 Filled with joyful segments, interwoven with ritual tableaus and exquisite sequential dance elements, the Dancers of Damelahamid - an acclaimed Indigenous company from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia - "working with the Indigenous worldview of time as circular...illustrat[ing] moments of connection, understanding, and renewal..." * 

"Through story, dance, visual art, and song, Mînowin" * attests to and ongoing tradition of moving translating and transforming the "act of clarifying direction" * as the earth and time integrate in circular patterns and gorgeous planetary movement. Dancing within a dazzling orbit of intricate choreography, playing seamlessly from one exquisitely detailed frame to the next. This was, at once, a soothing and exciting, calming and stimulating, evening of diverse and utterly engaging dance. 

* Mimi Beck, Danceworks Dance Curator



was presented at the 
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
on October 18 & 19

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Anthony McMahon & Thomas McKechnie

“I worked ‘til I was ready to die. I made it. I belong here. I have carved myself into this country.”
She’s from Moldova, he’s the son of Chinese immigrants. She’s a factory worker by day and a waitress by night. He’s a cab driver.
One night he picks her up running from job to job and their whirlwind relationship begins.
A typical Toronto love story, stolen in the moments between shifts. But can their love survive a city in late capitalism?

What sets this two hander apart from other dire warnings about the ills of capitalism are fine tragi-comic performances by both actors and a script that integrates a complex love story into a dead end formula for trying to make it in a world run by money mongering money mongers in a money mongering jungle of familial emotion and impeccable timing. The comedy alleviates much of the horror. And ample horror there is when the writers take on powerfully effective metaphors regarding dead cows and chickens that at times have the audience in grossed out awe of all that is laid out before them.

Both performers deftly handle fast paced intimate dialogue and varied characterization as they seamlessly move into the characters of their parents, back to themselves, with frequent sojourns into a kind of economics lecturer mode as they explain, in very accessible terms, how the one percent become the one per cent, and how others can try to get there even though capitalism cannot allow everyone to succeed within its narrow scope of greed, global domination, and dependence upon the existence of poverty.

Shannon Currie is an engaging and charismatic Veronyka as she makes her way through a dog eat dog eat chicken eat cow world. Matthew Gin as Jack matches his romantic sparring partners energy and eagerness with a subtlety and grace that contrasts beautifully with his wife Veronyka's less sentimental, but equally as loving approach to survival.

Guillermo Verdecchia's direction is clear and extremely well paced, integrating props movement and setting change into the actors duties as they flirt with socialist principles in a bewildering race toward the ultimate compromise. The upcoming election makes their journey an especially bittersweet one, complimented by a fourth wall that begins as a kind of meatpacking screen and moves into a semi-naturalistic setting for the bloodthirsty struggle up the economic ladder, and through all of the joy and betrayal that relentless climb can involve.

Based on Upton Sinclair's novel of the same name, The Jungle is a clever, engaging warning for what has already come to pass, what continues to grow, to evolve, mutate, all that jazz, as we barrel through a late stage of the same old captivating capitalist crap. Perhaps all we can hope for is some slight leverage when the ballots come in this month and we begin yet another roller coaster ride through whatever the powers that be decide to grace us with from above, tra la.


And as a side note, Tarragon's new water stations are a great addition as they rid the bar of single use water bottles. But the $25 (or so I was told by a courteous attendant?) shiny silver metal personal water bottles beautifully emblazoned with the name of the theatre in dramatic black letters need to be replaced with something more affordable and less contrary to plays like The Jungle where money is the object and survival cannot be imagined when a drinking vessel costs the price of a good chunk of weekly grocery money. Just sayin'...
runs at Tarragon Theatre's 
until November 3rd

Thursday, October 3, 2019

presented by REAson d'être productions

Framed by the enclosed white intimacy of a former classroom at Artscape, Young-place (Studio 103) REA'son d'être prodictions presents a haunting, at times lively, and beautifully moving portrait of two women moving across generations as they tell impressionistic, fragmented stories regarding trauma - past, present, and future. 

Created, choreographed, performed and directed by Kathleen Rea and Suzanne Liska, the hour long piece incorporates beautifully written segments that allow the dancers to express sentiments through an elegant and evocative form of dance theatre. 

Dramaturgy by Tristan R. Whiston contributes to an elegant and diverse approach to aural and visual narrative that employs both movement and voice. The two performers rise to the challenge with relentless energy and beautifully executed choreography - ranging from the elegant intermingling of bodies under duress, accompanied by beautifully arranged classical and choral sections, to the almost disco-like, pom pom inflected movement of two women dancing through the high energy, joy, and tribulations of complex lives. Sound design by Ference Szabo creates a varied and extremely engaging soundscape for words, music, and movement to exist within.
Moving among piles of clothing, first seen as a uniform heap of fabric, and then becoming a scattered array of signifying props, the setting reveals meaning within each chosen piece. 

The frequent positioning of the two characters as mothers in search of their children's clothing - as articles of everyday use and value - acts as an over arching object narrative representing the joy and the trauma of everyday existence.

Historical trauma also appears throughout, through the use of simple, elegant puppetry and voice over. Behind a sheet taken from the pile of clothing and hung as a screen, the performers move small figures and objects across the top edge as a voiceover tells iconic and tragic stories of loss by way of a heart wrenching tale of escape from the Soviet Gulag during WWII. People ripped suddenly ripped from their families is told in a startlingly effective fable-like way that holds great power, and provides a diverse element for the overall deftly varied dance/performance.

Other intersecting history-trauma memories include the horror of Japanese internment in Canada - stories of how lives filled with emotions and beloved belongings were torn apart and repositioned within traumatizing cultural environments that cross from generation to generation and continue to affect lives being lived in the 21st century.

A primary narrative force for these complex matters lies within the idea of handed down trauma. The historical and emotional basis for these storytelling elements are best described (see press release below) by the artists themselves as they work through a creative and personal process that has culminated in a beautifully conceived evening of dance theatre.

studio 103, ARTSCAPE Young-place - 180 Shaw Street, Toronto

- from REA'son d'être press release

Kathleen Rea & Suzanne Liska

Kathleen Rea, also a former psychotherapist, explains inherited ancestral trauma: "We pass on biological information to our children. Stress, trauma and malnutrition modify our genes, sending chemical signals turning them on or off. This changes the way we see, feel, taste and hear and deal with stress through up to five generations, getting less and less until the effect fades. The imprint of our elders and all they experienced before we were born lives inside us."

As a creator and dancer in Thread Bound, Suzanne Lisa explores the impact of the forced internment of her Japanese Canadian family during World War Two. 

Kathleen explores her family’s Eastern European World War Two experience which involved fleeing the Gulag concentration camps due to persecution for religious beliefs. Both Kathleen and Suzanne have been engaged in the life-long project of re-owning stories that they had been protected from when young and Thread Bound is the culmination of this process. 

Both artists are bound together in the search for these thin yet powerful threads. Thread Bound brings these stories and the imprint they still have on us into the public consciousness. To remember and express what has occurred in the past is relevant work in the face of rising worldwide forces that seek to persecute and disenfranchise based on religion and race. 
Thread Bound premieres amidst a national movement this year in 2019 calling for redress by the B.C. Government to expand on its 2012 apology for acts of racism again Japanese Canadians that "culminated in the province’s critical role in the forced removal, internment, confiscation of property, and forced exile of 22,000 Japanese Canadians during 1942 to 1949. " Many are asking for the provincial government to assume greater responsibility for the past injustices. They have also asked that Japanese Canadians be consulted to provide the community with a voice in developing recommendations for redress.
photos by Sarah Jones
Left - Suzanne Liska - Right - Kathleen Rea


SUZANNE LISKA (performer and co-creator) is a Certified Alexander Technique Teacher with a B.A., B.Ed, and MFA in Choreography. She has choreographed and danced in works for CanAsian KickStart, DanceWorks CoWorks, Dusk Dances, and Dance Matters, receiving grants and awards through York University, the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council. Her upcoming projects include co-creation with Takako Segawa and Heidi Chan and “Dancing Across the Universe” choreographed by Kathleen Rea. Suzanne has taught workshops in Ottawa, Calgary, Tokyo, and BC and in Toronto for Randolph Performing Arts College, Ryerson University, George Brown and Humber College. She is contract faculty in York University’s Dance department.

 KATHLEEN REA (performer and co-creator) danced with Canada's Ballet Jorgen, National Ballet of Canada & Tiroler Landestheater (Austria). Kathleen is a certified instructor of the Melt Method (Hand and Feet) and teaches Contact Dance Improvisation at George Brown Dance. She has choreographed over 40 dance works and been nominated for five DORA awards. Her film Lapinthrope, co-produced with Alec Kinnear, won the Gold Award at the Festival Der Nationen (Austria). Kathleen is also a recipient of a K. M. Hunter Choreographic Award. Kathleen is a published author (“The Healing Dance”, Charles C. Thomas). She has a Master’s in Expressive Arts Therapy and is a Registered Psychotherapist (CRPO) with over fifteen years in private practice. In January 2015, Kathleen became a candidate teacher of the Axis Syllabus. Recently Kathleen graduated as a Brain Advancement Coach (Pyramid of Potential Method). She is the director of REAson d’etre dance productions, which produces both the Wednesday Dance Jam and the Contact Dance International Film Festival.

 TRISTAN R. WHISTON (Dramaturge) is a multi-disciplinary artist who has worked in Toronto’s arts community for over 25 years as a director, dramaturge, writer, performer, and community artist. Tristan has written and directed five audio documentaries for CBC; most notably, his work, Middle C, won the 2007 Premios Ondas Award for International Radio. As the Artist-in-Residence at Central Toronto Youth Services (2004 to 2010), Tristan directed Gender Play, a theatre project working with LGBTQ youth exploring experiences of gender identity. Tristan recently collaborated with Moynan King on an integrated art and sound performance piece called trace, which toured Canada in 2015. In 2016, Tristan travelled to England where he was dramaturge and performer on Hush, a new musical written by Alex Bulmer which was presented at the London International Festival of Theatre and at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

 Maxine Heppner (Dance Coach), dance & inter-medial artist, mentor of choreographic process for over 40 years, Toronto-based since 1970’s, known for bold projects in Canada & worldwide, with companies, festivals, studios, academies, urban streets, rural villages, ranging from intimate chamber pieces to grand site-specific ensemble works, such as KRIMA! for 150 performers (Toronto’s top 10 dance shows 2009). Her practice is deeply connected in cutting edge contemporary arts of East Asia since 1989 through extended residencies continuing to today. Honours include recognitions worldwide, including commissions by 2004 Olympics, 2006 European Cities of Culture, Chalmers Senior Arts Fellowship, Japan Foundation award for international intermedial collaboration, 3 Toronto Dora awards. Artistic Director, Across Oceans Arts, Maxine facilitates the unique choreographers exchange “Choreographic Marathon” & platforms for deep research in creative process within dance & across disciplines. Maxine founded the dance dept of Claude Watson High School for Performing Arts (1983-87), led contemporary dance 14 years at the Koffler Centre, has been faculty at Concordia, York & University of Toronto. Her writings about creation, collaboration & process have been published in peer-reviewed journals & international conferences.