Friday, November 29, 2019


The Theatre Passe Muraille backspace is the perfect setting for the intimacy of this wonderfully moving and vastly entertaining evening of spoken word, music, and theatre. The overall effect suggests the possibility of a larger space, even a cinematic treatment, of this simple, uniquely entertaining and enlightening script. 

Poly Queer Love Ballad takes on a much represented romantic theme - monogamy (or lack thereof) - and makes a courageous and fulfilling attempt to find solutions to the unsolvable. In a nutshell - two beautiful young women fall in love. One of them wants the one and only scenario. The other one wants to find sexual fulfillment in more than one partner, but agrees that they can be primary partners, and that their relationship is first and foremost. Once the first sparks of passion ignite it is a bumpy yet lovely roller coaster ride through intricate, story-like lyrics sung beautifully by the very charismatic Sara Vickruckand, with powerful and rhythmic poetic pieces delivered throughout by Anais West.  When dialogue ensues there is a casual and comfortable rapport between the performers as they negotiate the various modes of performance as part of their polyplay romance. 

One aspect of the polyamory equation is brought to life by a quote from a Natalie Barney letter written over a century ago, giving the overall piece a broad historical plane to exist within, and providing beautiful and poetic sentiments from Barney in favour of more than a single lover. 

Complex direction by Julie McIsaac has the performers effectively traversing tight spaces and using much of the technology of spoken word in clever and powerful ways. The narrative rarely lapses into a realm of complete disavowal and distrust - not that this is a problem, but it is nice to see an alternate equation play itself out as abject heartbreak is too often where this kind of story can go. But Vickruck and West take on a popular sex dilemma and never fully allow it all to go there. Moments of indecision and unfair accusatory repartee do occur and heighten the drama, but all in all it is sixty minutes of queer heaven as two gifted artists share their take on the often impossible entanglements of two lovers where sometimes one of them needs to be three - or more. There is one moment of maddening projection when a dildo is discussed, giving far too much weight to that ever present phallus. But shit happens eh. What can ya do. With two more shows to go don't miss this funny fierce and fulfilling piece of spoken word theatre.


l-r Sara Vickruck, Anais West

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Theatre Gargantua's The Wager

If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations.

Alfred Russell Wallace

Theatre Gargantua's The Wager utilizes the real life struggle of Alfred Russell Wallace as he attempted to make sense of a world where the rational became the irrational and swiftly moved toward absolute mayhem and destruction. This dour state of affairs somehow becomes a kind of enlightening and frightening cabaret - at times operatic - that lends virtuosity and playful entertainment value to some of the most absurd events of the past hundred and fifty years. 

Musical interludes performed by a gifted multi-talented cast lift pedantic moments of too much rhetoric and not enough catastrophic detail beyond the informational and into a realm of darkly comic moments and sophisticated musical punctuation. Cutting fifteen minutes of poetic yet somewhat repetitive   forewarnings and replacing those moments with a bit more historical 'fact' could transform Michael Gordon Spences' largely effective and cleverly structured  script into a valuable lesson in how we might contribute to saving the planet, or at the very least, help to alleviate current concerns ranging for global warming to flat earth believers and marginalized individuals who are perceived as "unbelievable" due to the intersections of racist and misogynist discourse. 

Olivia Croft powerfully delivers a directly and powerful monologue midway through the piece that connects the ludicrous claims of varied subjects to the oppression of people caught within irrational worlds that oppress and invalidate them. This significant connection is held tougher in cabaret form by the gorgeous, at times operatic tones of both Croft and Tei Kasahara. Kasahara contributes great skill and versatility to an ensemble that never falters as they move seamlessly through a series of issues that threaten scientific methods that, although fallible, have also contributed to many life saving periods in history. 

Anti-vaccers also play a pivotal role as their dubious claims take shape within an action packed sequence resembling a game show more concerned with money and fame than the lives threatened by the questionable motives of money mongering detractors. 

Francois Macdonald and Michael Spence round out the quartet of performers and match equally the signature physicality and performance versatility of the overall cast - all representing the formidable musical, choreographic, and acting skill that Theatre Gargantua has consistently been acclaimed for.

l-r r - Teiya Kasahara, Michael Gordon Spence, Olivia Croft, Francois Macdonald

By the end of this varied tour de force the question remains, what is to be done? The final tableau is beautifully framed by Laird Macdonald's powerful lighting design that focusses beautifully the overall narrative, combined with the intricate and varied direction of Jacquie P.A. Thomas and Thomas Ryder Paynes high energy sound design throughout.

But there are times when the script does tend to wander through a bit of rhetorical excess. The poetically spoken/near chanting of the rhyming finale, atop precarious ladders framed by sharp spots of light and surrounding darkness, is hauntingly beautiful to watch but requires slightly more detailed and empowered content regarding all that has come before. The final lines lament what may be left for future generations and round out the overall journey with a meaningful at times reassuring lament - an elegantly performed lament that could use more connection to the actual facts regarding a planet and a population that has become increasingly unbelievable and uninhabitable over the past century and a half.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

between breaths

 Written by Robert Chafe

Directed by Jillian Keiley

Original Music Composed & Arranged by The Once

Factory presents an Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland production

Forty tons of muscle, fat, and bone, launched like a rocket. A Breach. No one's entirely sure of why they do it. I might be tempted to say it's nothing if not joy. 

Inspired by the true story of Jon Lien - known as the Whale Man - Between Breaths is a profoundly emotional memory play that sails through Lien's life and the dangerous, death-defying work of saving whales trapped in fishing nets off Newfoundland's coast. Over his long career, Lien saved over 500 whales and earned the respect of the island's fishermen, but his biggest fight came at the end of his life as dementia progressively conquered his body and mind. Featuring an evocative live score by Newfoundland's Juno-nominated The Once, Between Breaths is a beautiful and poignant play about the parts of ourselves we hold on to after everything else is gone. 

Tues - Fri PerformancesSat & Sun Performances
Regular Tickets: $40 Regular Tickets: $50
Senior Tickets: $30 Senior Tickets: $40
Student Tickets: $25 Student Tickets: $30
Artsworker Tickets: $25 Artsworker Tickets: $25
l-r - Steve O'Connell and Berni Stapleton

Coming in at just over an hour and ten minutes Between Breaths strikes one as a big varied idea struggling to lift itself out of a brief over simplified yet eloquently deployed script. Fine performances by Steve O’Connell, Berni Stapleton, and Darryl Hopkins, although beautifully accompanied by the haunting music of the  exquisite musical trio At Once, are frequently overwhelmed by the score. 

O’Connell, in the pivotal role of a kind of whale whisperer has powerful moments at the outset, but too often he has to compete with equally powerful rhythms that begin as elegant accents yet quickly become a little daunting and dirge like. 

The passion the central character feels for these mammoth creatures is found in abundance in O’Connell’s performance, and yet the overall mise-en-scene, combined with an information heavy script, does not allow the details of this complex man’s journey to shine through. There is a bit too much reductive narrative focus that suggests a large life that is  never fully shown. 

The main character’s late life struggle with illness is poignantly represented by both O’Connell and Stapleton, and yet the essential drive, fuelled by moments of  joy, passion and heartbreak are reduced to a frequently one note darkness that may not be giving full attention to a unique and impressive life at sea in one Canada’s many complex social, geographical, and cultural landscapes.

DirectorJillian Keiley’s direction effectively moves three characters around a beautifully designed yet somewhat tightened circular space (Shawn Kerwin, set & costumes). The set skilfully represents the swirling menace of the sea, and saving whales from life threatening confinement. But at times it all seems a touch  too confining, rendering the direction more a clever series of performance strategies rather than the expansive drama that is hinted at in exposition but never broadly realized. O’Connell’s intricately directed chair bound battles representing his career as a boat bound whale saviour are powerful and skillfully directed moments that might have moved outward toward other life moments in a more detailed script and within a more expansive playing space.

Ultimately, there are wonderful and engrossing moments throughout suggesting playwright Robert Chafe’s attempt to get at the intimacy of one man’s struggle with the sea and its particular creatures. But this is never fully achieved in a complex powerful way. A haunting yet continually repetitive musical and narrative tone looms throughout, creating too little poetic depth for a diverse epic story. The overall atmosphere sustains a halted sense that there are far more emotional variations to this story that have yet to be explored. 

Given the onstage inclusion of a trio of gifted musicians, Between Breaths has the ingredients for a longer, more ‘symphonic’ intimacy - replete with more developed and varied  ‘songs' and/or musical interludes - rather than the brief, somewhat unvaried emotional elements of what was clearly a great big life at sea. For all its promise to imagine that sea, its threatened underwater inhabitants, and the complex collaboration between human beings and ocean creatures to commingle in the throes of both living and dying, Between Breaths, although elegant and frequently heart wrenching, contains tremendous potential but not quite enough life. 


Monday, November 25, 2019

here are the fragments

are the Fragments
“Within the installation find places of retreat from chaos.
Find poetry. Find critical analysis.

Explore archival material, Fanon's writings and contemporary interviews with psychiatrists, neuroscientists, artists, and people living with schizophrenia, to reflect on the relationships between identity, history, racism, and mental health.”

The astounding sense of camaraderie and compassion apparent in the current production of Here are the Fragments is a truly haunting and empowering experience. As one wanders through an incredible maze of hard wired set pieces replete with dozens of heavy cords, headsets, microphones etc, this immersive performance text is simultaneously enlightening, entertaining, and terrifyingly self reflective. 

The notion of hard wired may act as an eerie metaphor, as dangling tentacles of technology appear to exist as both design and function, commingling to create a paradoxically stark/excessive setting that gives the space a strong sense of being tuned in and witness to the mayhem of racist cultural discourse, discovery, and attempted dismantling. 

One’s own conflicted notions regarding ‘white fragility’ and ‘white guilt’ may underlie a  kind of haunted house of past crimes against people of colour, and all of the intricate social structures that have marginalized, analyzed, and over pathologized bodies for centuries, specifically the last century and a half - with primary references to the work of Frantz Fanon, and secondary citings regarding the work of Freud, Kafka and many other complex and frequently problematic, frequently prophesying theorists, practitioners, and artists.


Writer, Creator: Suvendrini Lena Co-Creator, Co-Director: Leah Cherniak Co-Director: Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu Assistant Director: Abigail Whitney Production Manager: Rebecca Vandevelde Technical Director: Steph Raposo Co-Creator, Set and Video Designer: Trevor Schwellnus Assistant Set Designer: Victoria Wallace Lighting Designer: Shawn Henry Sound Designer: Nick MurrayStage Manager: Tara Mohan Assistant Stage Manager: Emily Maxwell Video Design Consultant and Programmer: Frank Donato
Filming: Magda Arturo, Juan Pablo Pinto
Filming/Editing: Alejandra Higuera
Head of Wardrobe and Costume Designer: Madeline Ius Carpentry: James Kendall Theatre Centre Producer: Alexis Eastman
Development Producer (2018/19): Karthy Chin
Performers: Kwaku Adu-Poku, Peter Bailey, Allan Louis, Kyra Harper

bottom - l-r - actors Peter Bailey, Kwaku Adu-Poku, Allan Louis, Kyra Harper

Intimate playing spaces give spectators a sense of exploring a kind of Kafkaesque laboratory devoted to the depiction and deciphering of multi-layered psychological and racist discourse. Scenes between pairs of actors from a superb four person ensemble, capture the ways in which the writers, designers, and technical crew have been able to take very complex ideas and turn them into accessible, powerful scenes that are amplified and projected throughout the space, with the actual performers becoming easy to find and to watch live within sections of the overall multi-media performing area. 

Ranging from the bleak confines of a tiny hospital bed where Kyra Harper and Allan Louis share a tragic moment of poignant connection, to a tiny office across from shelves of books ranging from Dostoevsky to Fanon, Gerald Manley Hopkins and countless others, this is an incredibly layered, accessible, and overwhelming testament to the conviction and commitment of all of the artists (technicians, writer, designers, actors, stage management) involved in the project.

An especially touching and interactive moment occurs in a small office space where actor Kwaku Adu-Poku, playing the part of the psychiatrist's son, offers lone audience members a tangerine and asks if they have listened to his father's recordings placed nearby on a desk with an old fashioned tape player, headphones, and a series of numbered cassettes. The finale of the piece provides further intimacy when father and son meet in front of beautiful projections for a bittersweet moment of connection and reflection. This perfectly balanced combination of intimate rapport and intricate socio-cultural examination creates a superb and profoundly thought provoking experience as one is presented with the menacing fragments of particular social and cultural experience, both empowering and frightening.

Friday, November 22, 2019


JDdance (Toronto)

presented by
IN ABSENTIA, conceived, choreographed, directed and written by Sharon B. Moore is a fantasia-like, bleak yet lively, frequently carnivalesque sixty-minute romp through a landscape that simultaneously conjures the desperate streets of inner city homelessness as well as a kind of rodeo of emotions ranging from high hilarity to cut throat clamouring, almost clownish camaraderie. 

The setting suggests a metaphor to difficult times, and although a program note explains that the story begins with two women "preparing for an elegant night out" but thwarted by a sudden storm, the storm seems more of an urban nightmare populated by an assortment of dancercise clad characters trying to survive within a tumultuous cardboard environment backed by extremely evocative  projections that create a harrowing reflective 'climate' for the overall experience to weather itself out within.

The environment these eight fantastical creatures inhabit solely consists of elaborately joined huge cardboard setpeices that become abstract platforms, screens, and at times a  series of glassless oval mirrors the dancers move through as these flimsy looking glass-like props collapse effectively like a fan of effectively floppy buckling dominoes. 

It is all a touch Alice In Wonderland gone terribly wrong, yet wildly entertaining as two tiny skeletons, through the use of expertly manipulated onstage cameras, have touching and conflicted escapades projected upon cardboard screens. Versatile dancer-puppeteers leave to frolic/dance from time to time, treating spectators to a mysterious world of dead entities and struggling creatures as they make their respective journeys through one world toward another.

There is plenty of high spirited entertainment value and some intricate choreography to attract the eye, but the story gets somewhat lost, especially considering that the spoken elements are often difficult to hear clearly, lending little evidence that the characters are in fact the very specific people they are listed as in the program. Ranging from a "Seahorse commander of inter-realms" to a "Naked man with gigantic wings & camera eye" (I didn't notice any explicit nudity and I am not one to overlook such a thing) and a "Woman with strategic and seductive ways" the costumes, although flashy and seductive, do not delineate these intriguing types in any obvious fashion.

Nevertheless, a very skilled ensemble, working hard to seamlessly maneuver the mammoth and versatile cardboard set pieces, and dancing through in varied intervals - from combative deceptively elegant free-for-alls to slight sombre meditative moments - ultimately create an intricate sense of chaos and camaraderie. A high energy cabaret segment reveals each dancers ability to move within the ensemble and display individual aplomb through engaging and witty characterization.

Nearing the end of an hour that, due to some seemingly repetitive sections, might have been more complete if cut by fifteen to twenty minutes, the overall narrative comes together the mesmerizing sand dynamic skeletal duo rise up, draped upon on disco balls, providing slight comic undertones. Like Grizabella in CATS these boney 'puppets' deliver an eloquent finale for this unique play of dance, theatre, sublimely macabre puppetry and powerful projections. 

IN ABSENTIA is a complex story - elaborately conceived via cleverly designed cardboard chaos and infused with  a sense of urban mayhem and crafty streetwise manipulation.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

playwright Kaitlyn Riordan on her text Portia's Julius Caesar
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.' I got to perform this great text when I lived to New York City and was in an all-female production of Julius Caesar. I got to win a crowd over to my side, to manipulate the plebeians, and to win the day! Playing Marc Antony was glorious and as I looked around Shakespeare's work for other tragic heroes to play, I noticed something: they were pretty much all male. I just do all-female productions from here on in, re-imagining male roles as female ones? But what if I want to see women at the heart of Shakespearean tragedies, being women? Talking about female issues as well as the state of the Republic? And what if I also want to know what the men were up to? How do I have it all, you ask? Well...Portia's Julius Caesar is my attempt at having it all. The highlights of Shakespeare's play along with the female perspective front and centre; the perspective which we barely see in the original. By exploring themes of motherhood, friendship, and moral dilemma from a different lens, the play only becomes richer for having more at stake. Hearing from the wives, mothers, lovers, and slaves of the powerful men at the centre of Julius Caesar, we encounter a depth of point of view in which more people can see themselves reflected. It doesn't lead to easy answers, just as in the original play - How do we deal with a budding dictator? How do we preserve a world which we see crumbling before our eyes? Is violence ever the answer? Asking those questions of an audience is exactly what Shakespeare did, and with Portia's Julius Caesar, the character asking those questions also happens to be breast feeding at the same time."

Portia’s Julius Caesar
Nov 15 - Nov 30, 2019
By Kaitlyn Riordan
Inspired by and adapted from the works of William Shakespeare
Directed by Eva Barrie

Named one of the top shows of 2018 by the Toronto Star after its summer premiere, Portia’s Julius Caesar is an unapologetically feminist take on Shakespeare’s classic account of political upheaval.

Through the eyes of a Roman wife, Portia’s Julius Caesar uses a mix of new words and the rich poetry from over 20 of Shakespeare’s works to explore the role of women in classic story-telling, ancient Roman society and politics.

The current Hart House production of Kaitlyn Riordan's acclaimed take on the Shakespearean text (Julius Caesar) is an action-packed, thoroughly balanced feminist version of a formerly 'male' text. Although adept at creating beautiful speeches and moving moments for his female characters, Shakespeare's works frequently moved women to the margins, utilizing them as necessary yet largely understated social and cultural 'props' that added to the plot yet rarely had the opportunity to fully speak their names and their relevant social claims to any great effect. In the hands of a very capable and powerful cast, Riordan's text allows both female and male characters to take control over an unwieldy and complex historical moment and respond accordingly. 

Moveable sets give the playing space an intriguing and varied presence throughout as the action plays out over this one hour and fifty minute drama. Moving with impressive ease, holding a fine rhythmic pacing through Eva Barrie's intricate direction, the action moves into the auditorium at various intervals, giving the play an  immersive aspect as friends, Romans and countrymen empower the audience and the plot with a sense of truly hearing the cries and pleas of ordinary people being involved in and affected by murderous and life-changing political shenanigans implemented by the rich and infamous.

Riordan has infused her text with her own take on Shakespearean language, as well as references to famous lines from various plays, and in one instance an iconic poem. An especially powerful moment occurs near the end when a lead female character shares the famous Fortune and Men's Eyes sonnet, framing the closing moments with a strong message regarding the plight of those living in the shadow of predominantly male power. This climactic scene lends the concept of disgrace a poignant, solitary, meditative, and truly moving intertextual tone - providing spectators with ways in which to view the overall import of this significant feminist version of an old male tale. By giving these powerfully elegant words to a female character Riordan provides her audience with possibilities regarding the ways in which one woman's grieving strength, in a sea of male power, may enact from within a mode in which to cope with the final tragic moments, through a kind of unnamed romance, of so many blighted lives.

Sonnet 29       When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.