Monday, September 5, 2016

REVIEW: COME WHAT MAYHEM: SPARKLING SOCIAL SATIRE LIGHTS UP THE SECOND CITY MAINSTAGE

Theatre has a long and worthy tradition of droll, subversive social satire. From Moliere to Michael Healey there have been many excellent playwrights whose work takes gleeful delight in tipping sacred cows: politicians, fads, fallacies, and social conventions.

I love political and social satire, but sadly, I don't see much of it on the stages of regular theatres.  Of late, productions on offer dealing with the current state of the world tend to be both very very serious, and  bum-numbingly tedious.

When comedies are mounted, they veer to the fluffy, unchallenging sort: long on laughs, and short on substance. Every summer, old-school farces and Norm Foster plays crop up like dandelions on stock stages and rep houses across the country.

It was, therefore, delightfully refreshing to visit Second City last Tuesday night for the opening of the  intelligent, shrewdly observed, and very funny COME WHAT MAYHEM. The impressively talented team of Roger Bainbridge, Kyle Dooley, Lindsay Mullan, Ann Pornel, Brandon Hackett and Becky Johnson have collectively created a two-act sketch show that adroitly takes on everything from shape-wear to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The breadth of topics and the cleverness and invention with which the myriad subjects are handled is a marvel. One of my favourite moments is a game show (with some audience involvement) that explores the contestants' knowledge of current events. It seems most of us know a lot more about entertainment news than we do about world affairs. Are we willfully ignoring the relentless assault of bad news from around the globe, or are we just plain dumb? MAYHEM offers a drawer full of similarly sharp knives, tossed with precision and flair.

The company has wonderful stage chemistry. They took amazing risks with each other, and with the up-to-the-minute material they have so brilliantly devised. Director Carly Heffernan  has ensured the show is both fast-paced and well-shaped.

Since 1959, Second City has presented and produced some of the finest comedy writers and performers of that generation. The current crew is certainly a bumper crop.

Go check out COME WHAT MAYHEM. Not only will you experience a laugh filled, thrilling night of high-stakes sketch comedy; you'll be able to say you saw these terrific, young performers live, up close, and personal as they ascended to comedy stardom.

COME WHAT MAYHEM continues at the Second City Mainstage in Toronto at 51 Mercer Street from Tuesday to Sunday. For further information or to reserve tickets:  http://www.secondcity.com or call (416) 343-0011

Friday, August 5, 2016

REVIEW: DUSK DANCES Offers Up Another Delicious Summer Smorgasboard of Dance

Toronto is a wonderful city in so many ways.  One of the things I enjoy the most about living here is the veritable feast of free and pay-what-you-can outdoor performances all over the city during the summer months.

This week, one of my favourite pay-what-you-can public performances, DUSK DANCES is on in Withrow Park, in Toronto's Danforth area.

 For the past 22 years, Sylvie Bouchard and company have presented a well-curated program of contemporary dance in the park.  This year, the mixed program of work features artists from both Quebec and Ontario, with plenty for both dance-newbies and seasoned dance-goers to appreciate and enjoy.

Dance in a broad range of styles is presented in an approachable and family-friendly manner.  Hostess Allegra Charleston (the clown alter-ego of choreographer and dancer, Susie Burpee) is the mistress of ceremonies for this year's program of five works at five different sites within the park.  Audiences are aided by volunteers in decamping, and moving from stage to stage to take in the work.  The choreographers in turn,  have made inventive uses of  their respective playing areas.

We arrived just as the pre-show Nia class given by Martha Randall was winding up.  With live accompaniment by the band DOUBLE-TOOTH , the movement session energized the crowd, as did the delightfully silly antics of  the enthusiastic hostess.

The first piece of the night had the audience seated at the base of a small hillock for HEYKLORO, an urban dance created by Gadfly choreographers, Apolonia Velasquez and Ofilio Sinbadinho, and vigorously performed by the impressive crew of Raoul Wilke, Lauren Lyn, Daniel Gomez, and Celine Richard-Robichon. The sharp, angular movements and confident, pulsing physicality of the dancing was driven by a street music mix by Dr Draw and Sinbadinho. The black costumes and dark googles were in perfect keeping with the edgy street vibe.

Next up was La Otra Orilla, with a duet both choreographed and performed by Myriam Allard and Hedi Graja.The piece was a flamenco-buffoon mash-up, danced on a long, narrow, wooden platform: a perfect surface for the elegant percussive footwork. Here, the bata de cola, the traditional ruched flamenco skirt was massive and sculptural: long enough to form a ruffled cocoon over a entire dancer's body.  This wearable sculpture had strong visual impact and became a  third character in the piece.

Next, was Susie Burpee's utterly wonderful duet  THIS IS HOW WE LOVE.  Audience members were invited to reply to the question, "What does love feel like?"  The shouted-out responses covered a gamut of human emotions, which two self-appointed "love experts", also from the audience, wrote onto the backs of  cards.   The performers then created the dance by randomly selecting cards from baskets, and  and interpreting the recorded emotions to a score by Satie. As in life, the two performers were seldom feeling anything like the same thing at the same time. Brendan Wyatt and Sylvie Bouchard were lovely in this: silly, tender, beautiful and brave.  It was performed in front of a flower garden beneath a giant tree: a perfect idyll for a summer romance.

Michael Caldwell's WAVES was beautifully danced by Mairead Filgate, Molly Johnson, and Meredith Thompson.  Kyle Brender's saxophone followed the dancers as they executed an elaborate interplay of forms, shapes, sounds, and colour. Caldwell's notes state that the work was influenced by radical movements in film-making and visual art. It was the most cerebral offering on the program, but there was much to enjoy in its fluidity and  restraint.

The last piece of the night took place on a concrete ball hockey pad, inside, on top of, and around a car. AUTO-FICTION by Montreal-based Human Playground is a half-hour series of visceral, propulsive, and athletic duets and trios exploring extremes in human relations and emotions. The stadium lighting and aggressive score by David Drury underlined the intensity of the physical work. David Albert-Toth, Jessica Serli and Simon-Xavier Lefebvre were outstanding. 

The dance deserved a kind of concentrated attention it was difficult to offer in this environment, at least from my vantage point.  I was standing near the back, on one side, and while my sight-line was good, I was constantly being jostled by restless little ones running in, out of, and through the crowd, and being shushed and admonished by their parents. Try get a spot where you can give AUTO FICTION the focus it merits. It's as rewarding as it is demanding.

If you can, do treat yourself to this eclectic and highly entertaining program of contemporary dance. DUSK DANCES always gives warm summer memories to cherish long after the show is over.

DUSK DANCES continues at Withrow Park (Pape subway Station) in Toronto this weekend until Sunday August 7th at 7:00 PM, with a 2:00 PM matinee on the 7th. Bring your own chairs, cushions, or blankets to sit on. The company relies on pay-what-you-can-donations, which can be made on-site, to volunteers, or by texting 3033, then DDTO10 or DDTO20 to make a donation.

 






Saturday, July 23, 2016

REVIEW: BAD ROMANCES: ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL & TAMING of THE SHREW are DARK, FUNNY and VERY PROBLEMATIC

Summer:  a grove, a warm, clear night, a Shakespearean love story.  Sounds romantic, right?  In the case of two productions currently playing in Toronto, not so much.

Both Canadian Stage and Driftwood Theatre have their annual outdoor summer productions onstage here this weekend.  Both productions are sharp and stylish, but take a decidedly darker look at love than you might expect from a mid-summer frolic in the park.

Canadian Stage's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL is an assured, droll, and unsettling production of one of Shakespeare's more difficult romances.  Ted Witzel is a clever and imaginative director and there's much to admire in his production. His battle scenes are particularly compelling.  He makes great use of contemporary music in the transitions. The set by Teresa Przybylski is dynamic.  I particularly liked the mismatched chairs as a metaphor for all of the mismatched couples. The relationships are clear, the character work by the actors is skillful.  It's a production with a lot of style and lot of soul, but sadly, very little heart.

Helen lives under the protection of the Countess Rossillion, mother of Bertram, and proprietress of a spa in the south of France. As the Countess, Nicky Guadagni is confident and capable: the best actor onstage with the delivery of the text.

As Helen, Mina James fares far less well. She seems adequately besotted with Bertram, but plays  Helen as a one-note "nice girl" driven solely by desperation, without a shred of malice or cunning, which hardly seems in keeping with the course of action she takes to close the deal with him. She's also not very nuanced in her delivery of the text.

Helen pursues Bertram to France where the King of France (a funny and well-spoken Marvin L. Ishmael) bestows the hand of her heart's desire, and a sizable dowry in exchange for curing a fistula. The butt-plug on a drill she deployed made me think her old man was a scholar of South Park, not medicine. The torture device turns up later in the show in a more sinister context.

Betram, who seems to be having an affair on the down low with his clearly love-struck friend Parolles, and, is wilding with girls on the side, wants nothing to do with Helen, who he considers beneath contempt. He marries her, but refuses to consummate the relationship, choosing instead to flee to a battlefield in Florence, leaving Helen with a list of near-impossible contractual conditions to meet before the marriage is valid.

Kaleb Alexander plays Bertram as a good-looking, privileged douche-bag. It's certainly a valid take on the character, but it leaves the audience with no possibility of rooting for him and Helen as a couple.  I kept hoping he'd get a fatal case of clap or die in a road-side explosion.

As it is, when it turns out Diana has deceived him, and he has, indeed, bedded and impregnated his legal wife, he seems inexplicably chuffed by the turn of events.

The director has made the centre of the production Betram's friend, the bad apple, Parolles.  Here, Parolles is a gay man who is being punished for who he is.  Quasim Khan give a wonderfully complex performance, garnering our sympathies, while clearly exhibiting the character's less attractive qualities. The scene where Parolle's fellow soldiers give him a comeuppance for bragging and lying, is, here, an ugly gay bashing. It's the most powerful moment in the production.

The other star turn is Rachel Jones as the clown Lavatch, in cow prints and a Dolly Parton wig, delivering a series of beat poems by Witzel. Like Parolles, Lavatch is castigated for owning her sexuality.  You can't take your eyes off Jones when she's onstage.  She does a great job with Witzel's monologues, though I would have preferred Witzel had concentrated on ensuring all his actors delivered the poetry in the text of Shakespeare's play, rather than supplementing the Bard's writing with his own.

As stylish, clever and well-observed as the production is, you can only feel sorry, rather than hopeful for the couple at the heart of the play. It's entertaining as social satire: but it's not much of either a comedy or a romance.

Then, over in Withrow Park, Driftwood Theatre has set the even more problematic TAMING OF THE SHREW in 1989, turning it into a pop musical.  The '80s love duets as sub-text can't wall-paper over the fact that Kate (a suitably fierce Siobhan Richardson) is handed by her mother over to Petruchio, who, with his eye on her dowry, starves her, hits her and gas-lights her into submission.

D. Jeremy Smith has directed a fast-paced and engaging production, heavily focused on music and on a secondary gay rights theme.  Lucentio (a lovely Fiona Smith) is gender fluid, giving her secret courtship of Bianca (a very sweet Tahirih Vedani) a plausible contemporary context.  These are the lovers we find ourselves rooting for. Paulo Santalucia is also delightful as Tranio.

Geoffrey Armour has the thankless task of playing Petruchio.  He comes off as a guy who believes he is in love with Kate, and that he's doing the right thing: in short, he plays him as a textbook nice guy abuser.  I don't think I've ever seen a production of the play where the dynamic between Kate and Petruchio was as disturbing.

The premise of the production is ostensibly that Kate and Petruchio are in a consensual D/s relationship. I can see how this concept held appeal, but the text of the play doesn't really support it. It's a fun production and it's worth seeing, but nothing that happens here changes the dark heart of the story. This SHREW is a portrait of an abusive relationship in a fancy black leather music box.

ALLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL continues in High Park until September 4th, with performances Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 8:00 PM. www.canadianstage.com TAMING OF THE SHREW continues in Toronto in Withrow Park until July 24th with performances at 7:30 PM  and then in various Ontario destinations: www.driftwoodtheatre.com













Thursday, July 21, 2016

INTERVIEW: SIOBHAN RICHARDSON TALKS to S&G about Boundaries, Respect and a Modern Take on TAMING OF THE SHREW

Siobhan Richardson is an in-charge kind of woman.  When I haven't called her by 12:09 for our scheduled noon chat, she's calling me.  In fairness, I was bearing down on Saturday morning housework, and lost track of time. She hadn't. She very graciously gave me five minutes to get organized, and call her back. Good thing I'd prepared a list of questions the night before!

It's two days until Driftwood Theatre's Toronto run of TAMING OF THE SHREW opens for the Toronto leg of its tour.  They've already been to several Ontario cities, including London, and her home town of Kitchener.  So far, the show has gone really well.

"We've been playing to really large houses:  larger than we anticipated.  It's exciting.  The energy of the audiences has been wonderful."

I find Richardson's energy infectious.  She tells me that Driftwood's take on Shakespeare's infamous battle of the sexes is being set in 1989, in Toronto. Lucentio is gender-fluid and woos Bianca secretly.  Kate and Petruchio are in a consensual D/s relationship.

"The production uses Shakespeare's play to explore issues of acceptance, respect, and consent. Petruchio says, "If she be pleased, and I be pleased, what's that to you?"  Good question.

"To tame, isn't to subjugate, but to create ties. Petruchio uses the metaphor of a falconer and and a falcon. When the bird doesn't eat, the keeper doesn't eat."

Yes, I point out, but the falconer still owns the bird.  The bird is chattel.  Petruchio treats Kate as chattel.

Not in this production. Richardson tells me that her Kate willingly gives control to Petruchio because she knows he loves her. "Kate is surrounded by people who hate her, or fear her.  Her own mother treats her with no respect.  Petruchio accepts her as she is, and for who she is. Their relationship is one of great trust.  This allows her to be pushed to the edge of her limits."  A pause. "Jeremy(Smith, Driftwood's artistic director, and the director of the production) lit a candle that I could walk towards.  He gave us a lot of reading material.  He had a really clear vision of the production that inspired all of us. Doing this has been an immersive experience."

The late '80s setting allowed them to employ pop music from the period, giving Richardson and company an excellent opportunity to use their vocal chops.  She has done a lot of musical theatre and loves to sing.  Does she have a favourite role? "Oh, I played twins in a musical, THE LAST RESORT at Sterling.  It was great fun, a great challenge. members of the audience actually thought there were two actors!"

Richardson likes all kinds of challenges. She's a well-trained stage combatant, and is the fight captain of the production, as well as its leading lady.

"I'm a tough girl. I can take what he (Petruchio) dishes out.  Look, ultimately, the play is a comedy. We want the production to stimulate conversation among people, and to help them enjoy the story."

I've certainly enjoyed my conversation with Richardson.  She's thoughtful, tough-minded, energetic and passionate.  I hope Petruchio appreciates her.

Driftwood Theatre's production continues in Toronto at Withrow Park ( a short walk from Pape Station) until July 24 and then resumes touring Ontario throughout the summer.  Toronto performances begin at 7:30 PM .  All performances are Pay What You Can.  Chairs can be rented on site and refreshments are available.  www.driftwoodtheatre.com for more information.

Correction:  Richard Lee is the fight director of Taming of the Shrew.  Ms. Richardson is the fight captain for the production.  The author wishes to apologize for her earlier error, and for failing to credit Mr. Lee for his work.









Friday, July 8, 2016

REVIEWS: FRINGE TORONTO 2016: Some FAVES from the FEAST

The Toronto Fringe, is sadly, winding down to its final weekend.

As I sit back at my desk at work, I thought I'd share some moments I'm going to cherish from this year ,and tell you about some shows you still have time to see until Sunday, July 10th when the Toronto Fringe draws to a close.

One of the things that made this year so special, was a visit from my sister, Lisa.  Lisa loves going to the theatre as much as I do, and a big part of her holiday here was spent running from Fringe show to Fringe show together, and then going home and comparing notes late night.We shared a room, as we had when we were girls.

We started Fringing on Thursday evening, as Wednesday night she treated me to a Peter Gabriel/Sting concert.  It was my first time at an ACC show and I felt like a tourist in my own city.We walked home down Bremner Boulevard through a neighbourhood that didn't exist 12 years ago, the last time she was here for a summer vacation.

So it seemed fitting that her first ever Toronto Fringe experience was a walk through the Annex with writer/performer Alex Eddington for LIFE LIST, letting her be a tourist in one of my favourite neighbourhoods in this city.  Alex takes the audience of twenty-four on a bird-hunt. The show combines music, ritual, and story-telling as Alex shares his love of bird-watching inherited from his mom, who passed away recently. LIFE LIST is a unique immersive theatre experience.  I found myself with a tear in my eye at the end.

Then we hiked back to the beer tent.  We were going to see BLIND TO HAPPINESS at 10:30 PM in the Annex Theatre and had time for a drink with some old friends between shows.  Lisa went for an Arnold Palmer, an iced tea and lemonade combo on offer from Insomnia, one of the food vendors at the tent this year.  Delicious, and not too sweet.

BLIND TO HAPPINESS was packed, and absolutely wonderful:  great performance and writing by Tim Murphy, and fine direction by Johnnie Walker. Murphy's performing chops are gob-smacking, and the story about the nature of happiness is moving. Last night, he took a best of festival award, so if you miss him this week you have a chance to catch him later this month at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

We'd had dinner and a football game earlier in the day, so at that point, we called it a night, and headed home.

We started Canada Day by seeing TOLLER, Sky Gilbert's story about Canadian figure skating legend, visual artist, and tortured soul, Toller Cranston.  David Livingston bears an uncanny resemblance to Cranston, and he gives a fine performance in a challenging role.  One of the experiences he shares is a story about being bullied as a kid in a small town for the offense of wearing a scarf to school.   On the eve of the Pride parade, it was, I felt, important to be reminded of what gay people have endured just for being themselves. This show has an extra performance on Sunday.  It's one of the best shows in this year's festival.  Catch it while you can.

Lisa caught another football match and I went to see Keir Cutler do SHAKESPEARE CRACKPOT. As always with Keir, I left the theatre more knowledgeable than I was when I entered. This time, I learned more about the cult of Shakespeare, and also about Cutler's remarkable parents. The stories about their accomplishments and contributions to Canadian society on a Canada Day afternoon, were more than worth the price of admission.

Friday night, it was BRIGHT LIGHTS.  Again, the theatre was packed for Kat Sandler's highly anticipated collaboration with Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis, Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone and Colin Munch.  As always with Sandler, the set-up generated  tons of conflict-driven action, and laughs aplenty.  High energy performances, great comedy chops, and tight ensemble work made this a real crowd-pleaser.

Then we stayed at the Tarragon to see ABSOLUTE MAGIC with Keith Brown.  Brown is incredibly personable and engaging, and his illusions left the audience gasping.  Years from now, when he's playing Vegas, you'll be able to say you saw him when.

Saturday, I scheduled myself for a four-show day.  Lisa had scheduled herself for a 3:00 PM Euro-Cup match. We started our morning seeing THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO, Rory Ledbetter's charming love story about his trip to Spain with his then-fiance.He made me want to walk the Camino, or at least try the red wine and coke combo beverage he describes in the show. It was a romantic, thoughtful and engaging story, well-told.

Lisa went back to watch football at Paupers.  I went to see the delightful Penny Ashton in PROMISE AND PROMISCUITY.  Ashton gives a witty, captivating, and high-energy performance in her very funny and wickedly clever, musical, Jane Austen homage/satire.  Ashton's character work is superb throughout. I particularly enjoyed the ball scene.  I've seen two shows at the Randolph, and the acoustics are less than optimal, no fault of the performers, although it certainly makes them have to work even harder to be heard. I think the centre of the house is likely the best place to sit or at least, close to the front.

I joined Lisa at the pub for the overtime portion of the game, and then, we wandered over to the Factory Theatre to see CAM BABY and CURIOUS CONTAGIOUS.  CAM BABY was a stand-out: a terrific ensemble of young actors tackling a torn-from-the-headlines script about voyeurism, body image, quarter-life crises, and the ways in which social media has challenged expectations of privacy in relationships. I hope a theatre picks it up for a remount.  It's one of the best new plays I've seen this year.

CURIOUS CONTAGIOUS was one of the shows I was most excited to see this year. Mind of a Snail is an endlessly inventive company and their beautiful story uses magic realism, gorgeous layered projections, masks, costumes and an original score to talk about the impact of urban sprawl on the environment. It was heartfelt and utterly lovely.  They won Patron's Pick, and have an extra show on Sunday.  It's a kid-friendly show.  Go check them out.

We had pizza for dinner and headed in to see HAPPINESS at the Passe Muraille.at 11:00 PM.  The play is a stylish and sharp social satire, written and performed by Tony Adams and Cory Thibert. I didn't think the show need the over the top ending, but I really enjoyed both the otherwise well-crafted story, and the fine and energetic performances.

We took the day off Sunday for PRIDE and football and I headed off to see one of the festival's hottest tickets, FOR THE RECORD. Shari Hollet, Chris Earle, and their daughter Lucy created a solid, vinyl-driven, coming of age tale set in Kops Record store.  The venue is tiny -30 seats - and following the performers through the crowded space was both fun, and occasionally frustrating. Hollet and I are of the same vintage, and her tale of growing up poor in a wealthy neighbourhood really resonated. Hollet played her 17 year-old self with both insight and abandon, and Lucy's transitions through all of the other characters were both understated, and polished.  Mostly, the show is an homage to Hollet's tough-minded, hard-working, chain-smoking, thrice married, barely present mother. I'm very glad I saw it. It's one of those gems that could only happen at the Fringe.

I went home, shared a cheese board with my sis, and dragged her off to see BEST PICTURE at a late night show which was on past her bed time.  We were really happy we stayed up that night!  Funny, well-observed, and lighting quick, the cast of three makes EVERY Oscar-winning picture happen in 60 minutes. It's a treat of a show.  Go, and take a film buff.

Sadly, I had to go back to work on Monday.  While I was off earning the rent, Lisa ducked into DANCE ANIMAL and told me I had to see it. I went for their 11:00 PM show last night.  Super high-octane fun from an incredibly funny cast of improvisers: it's one of my feel-good faves of the festival.It's also held over.

I rushed out of work early to catch OUT, Greg Campbell's deeply personal, very funny, occasionally terrifying, and moving  story about coming out at the age 17 in the late '70s.  It's excellent: beautifully written, and wonderfully performed, with  skillful direction by Clinton Walker.  OUT also took a best of fest award.  It 's well-deserved.

Monday night we went to see GOD OF CARNAGE.  It's a polished production of the black comedy that explores the darker aspects of human nature beneath our civilized veneers.  Stephen Flett on his cel phone is worth the price of admission.

Last night, I went to see WEIRD, which combines aerial silks and Shakespeare to tell the tale of the Scottish play, from the point of view of the three witches.It's an innovative  and compelling take on an old story, with a decidedly feminist bent. Well worth seeing, and the winner of  the Cutting Edge Award last night, for the originality of the production.

I'm going to immerse myself for the last weekend, and catch a few more shows before the festival ends on Sunday.  I plan to see:  IN THE TRENCHES, because no one else is doing commedia dell'arte this year, and I was impressed by the way they busked the line-ups, FALLING AWAKE , because it has had great buzz from other performers, ALL KIDDING ASIDE because I know Christel Bartelse, and love her warmth onstage, PERSEPHONE because a friend saw it, and told me he loved it - and I have a soft spot for Greek myths, FAR AWAY, because it had good buzz, ANGELS AND ALIENS, again because I've heard good things and because Jeff Leard is in it, and he's a terrific performer, THE COMEDY of ERRORS, because dinner and Shakespeare together seems like a good way to end a four-show day, LITTLE PRICKS because  Denise Norman is telling a story that intrigues me, and RATED R, because several choreographers and dancers I respect told me it was one of the best dance shows they'd seen this year.

I never get to everything I want to see.  For instance, I haven't seen a single musical this festival, and I would like to have seen several of them, including LIKE A FLY IN AMBER. I saw nothing at Kids' Fringe.Sigh.

Many shows don't sell out their runs and there are often tickets available an hour before the performance at the door, including tickets for the Patron's Picks performances, which are currently listed on the Fringe website. I have had some great Fringe experiences walking into the show next door to a show that was sold out.


I'll see you in line, or around the tent this weekend.  Happy Fringing!

The Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival continues until July 10th at venues around west central Toronto.  For tickets, schedules, and information about the festival, and  the list of held-over shows playing at the Toronto Centre for The Arts and  foe one extra show on Sunday,  go to: http://www.fringetoronto.com or call (416) 966-1062.  Advance tickets may also be obtained at the Fringe Box office, located in the tent behind Honest Ed's at Bloor and Bathurst.








Monday, June 27, 2016

#FringeTO is at HONEST ED'S One Last Time: RU Ready to Grab Some Theatre Bargains?

It's two days until the Toronto Fringe 2016 opens and I'm like a kids two days before Christmas!  I love the glorious moment when I pick up my old-school paper program, and contemplate the feast of possibilities that lies before me.

Perhaps you have gone paperless, and are doing all your planning online, using the festival's website?  Maybe you've even downloaded the Fringe's new app to your mobile device?

With comfy shoes, a water-bottle, a little cash, a little planning, and a little stamina, even an arts lover on a tight budget can manage to treat themselves for a heady array of fine Fringe entertainment.

I'm getting ready!  My billet is safely ensconced, and is finding her way around the city.  My old-school program is at hand, and I have gone through it, and used my post-it note method to draw up a lengthly list of possibilities. Now, to book my tickets!

I have been speaking to people on the circuit, reading press releases, and talking to audience members in other cities, to get you the inside dope on stuff to check out over the next 12 days.

Here, in the order they appear in the catalogue, are some shows that caught my eye before the festival opens:

THE GEORGE IGNATIEFF  THEATRE (Kids' Fringe)

DOWNTOWN JAY
DORA-award winning Toronto performer Ryan Kelly is no stranger to musical theatre, and he helms this new children's musical.

PIRATES DON'T BABYSIT!
Carl Bauer is a fine actor and will doubtless make an excellent pirate in Barb Scheffler's comedic script.

TWEFTH NIGHT - A PUPPET EPIC
Shakey Shake and Friends are back with their charming puppets, to do a young-audience friendly retelling of TWEFTH NIGHT.

TARRAGON THEATRE MAINSPACE

BRIGHT LIGHTS
It's rumoured on the circuit that show #1 in Venue #1 is almost always a hit.  Here, prolific playwright and Toronto Fringe vet Kat Sandler teams up with Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis (otherwise known as Fringe rock stars, Morro and Jasp,) Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone (yes, THAT PeterNChris!)  and Colin Munch of Shakey-Shake to do a piece set in an alien abductions support group.

INTO
Dave Carley is a fine writer and this play is a revival of an earlier Fringe hit.

THE STAGE MANAGER'S GUIDE TO DATING ASSHOLES
Jenna MacNeil is a damn funny girl, but really, after a lifetime in this business, I'm going for the title - and the shared life experience.

TARRAGON THEATRE EXTRASPACE

ABSOLUTE MAGIC
I met Keith Brown in Ottawa several years ago.  He was absolutely charming. There was good buzz on this magic show coming out of Ottawa and Orlando from reliable sources, so it'll be worth checking out.

ALL KIDDING ASIDE
Fringe veteran Christel Bartelse is a delight as a performer. Here, she tackles that age-old question many of us find ourselves wrestling with at some point in our lives: "to breed or not to breed?"  I look forward to hearing her pronouncements, which are sure to amuse.

TOLLER
Theatre iconoclast and Buddies in Bad Times founder, Sky Gilbert  has written a bio-play about world-class Canadian figure skater, ice-dance coach, and visual artist, Toller Cranston.  I was a big fan of Cranston's.  He coached a friend of mine, back in the day. I look forward to seeing what Gilbert does with this material.

THE SOLO ROOM
I'm going to wait for the beer tent buzz on the  shows in this venue.

AL GREEN THEATRE

DARIO ET LA DIABLESSE
In Hatian culture, La Diablesse is a force to be reckoned with. I thought this was an intriguing premise for a musical.

RANDOLPH THEATRE

PROMISE and PROMISCUITY: A New Musical by JANE AUSTEN and PENNY ASHTON.
Ms. Ashton is a wickedly funny writer and performer, and this show, a big hit on the touring circuit, makes its Toronto debut this week.  I can't wait!

WEIRD: THE WITCHES of MACBETH
This show which adds a liberal dose of aerial art and stage combat to a retelling of the tale of the Weird Sisters, was a hit on Ottawa.

Sex-T-Rex, the Montreal-based comedians  are also at this venue with WASTELAND, but you knew that already.

ANNEX THEATRE

BLIND TO HAPPINESS
I alway enjoy Tim C. Murphy as a writer and a performer, and I haven't seen this show, which was a hit in Winnipeg and elsewhere on the circuit.

I'll also try to catch WOMEN, because Louisa May Alcott's four sisters were one of the joys of my childhood, and I'd like to check out the adaptation by a group of young women artists.

ST VLADIMIR THEATRE

THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO
Rory Ledbetter is a thoughtful, warm and articulate guy in person, and he's here from Mississippi with a tale about his experience walking the el Camino de Santiago with his fiance. It's his first time in Toronto, though he has done other Fringes. I'm looking forward to checking out his story-telling chops.
Full disclosure: his stage manager is my billet.

THE NO BULL$#!% HISTORY of INVENTION
Kyle Allatt's previous show was a hit, he's sold out in Edmonton, and I like a show where there's a chance I might learn something.

THE HELEN GARDINER PHELAN PLAYHOUSE

LITTLE PRICKS
Denise Norman is well-known Toronto-based actress and musician ( The MADRIGALS).  She's donned her writer's hat and created a multi-performer show about living with MS. I'm keen to see her take on a tough subject.

OUT
Talented actor Greg Campbell has written and is performing a piece about being a young, gay man in  the  late '70s. This should be good.

ROBERT GILL THEATRE

SHAKESPEARE CRACKPOT
Fringe fave Keir Cutler is back waxing acidic on academia and his favourite topic, The Bard. If you've never seen Cutler before, here's your chance. If you have, you know he's always an excellent bet.

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE MAINSPACE

BEST PICTURE
Ribbit RePUBLIC is a Fringe institution on the Western circuit.  The show was just selected as best show at the Ottawa Fringe and won Patrons' Pick in both Winnipeg and Orlando.  I know Jon Paterson and Kirk Fitzpatrick, and those boys can bring it. Jeff Culbert, their director, is an excellent writer, performer and director.  60 Oscar winning films parodied in 60 minutes. How can you lose?

HAPPINESS
No less a Fringe stalwart than Jem Rolls told me this was a good show.  Three young writers take on the self-help movement. It five-starred in Winnipeg.  If it's good enough for Jem, it's bound to be pretty good.

I'm also very temped by SCENES FROM PLAYS I NEVER WROTE by Greta Papageorgiu.  It's a play about writers' block and I'm a writer with a script due at a theatre by the end of July. Not that I'm procrastinating by running around spending 10 days seeing other shows. Hell, no!

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE BACKSPACE

This is one of the tinier (50 seat) venues at the Fringe.  Popular Fringe comedian Graham Clark has two shows here, including RING A DING DONG DANDY, where he and Ryan Bell deconstruct wrestling clips. Sound like fun!

FACTORY THEATRE MAINSPACE

CURIOUS CONTAGIOUS
The brilliant and utterly inventive Mind of Snail (Caws and Effect) is back with their beautiful synthesis of shadow puppetry and original music. I'm so there!

CAM BABY
Jessica Moss is this year's winner of the New Play Contest.  She also wrote POLLY POLLY. She's looking at voyeurism.  I'm intrigued.

FACTORY THEATRE STUDIO

DOOMED
Neil Muscott directs and Shastia Latif is the dramaturge, and their combined talents makes me think Jorge Moreira might have a good show up his sleeve.

Several shows in this venue intrigued, just on the basis of content.  OH SARAH!  about 19th century stage star Sarah Bernhardt looks interesting, as does ORSON WELLES/SHYLOCK.  TAROT LIVE by Montreal-based psychic Jesse Stong also looks like a good time.


SITE SPECIFIC

A number of well-known Toronto-based theatre companies are doing site specific shows.  These shows are often pretty solid bets, but these were a couple of stand-outs (for me) on the long list.

LIFE LIST by Alex Eddington is a must see for me.  I love Eddington's story-telling, and this time he's taking us on a nature walk to find a rare bird.

THE UNENDING is an omnibus production of three short plays about affairs by the excellent Convergence Theatre.  This one is sure to sell out.

Justin Haigh, the writer of smash Fringe hit, LOVE IS A POVERTY YOU CAN SELL is premiering a new play, BEHOLD THE BARFLY!  in a pub, The Monarch Tavern.

If you like watching your theatre, beer in hand in air-conditioned comfort, the always enjoyable Shakespeare BASH'd is back with THE COMEDY of ERRORS at the VICTORY CAFE.  Another sure-fire sell-out.

Shari Hollet and Chris Earle (Radio 30) have a show about parents, kids and music FOR THE RECORD in Kop's Records.

It's the festival's last year at the Honest Ed's site. Legendary theatre producer Ed Mirvish's revered house of bargains has always seem a perfect home for the best, least expensive theatre event in town.
This year, there are even some half-price, day of tickets available at the festival box office.

Go get yourself a theatre deal, followed by a drink in the parking lot behind the store, while you still can. Next year, Honest Ed's will be gone, turned into yet another condo/retail development.

THE TORONTO FRINGE THEATRE FESTIVAL runs from June 29th to July 10th at venues around downtown west Toronto.  For dates, times, tickets and information, got to http://www.fringetoronto.com





















Tuesday, June 7, 2016

REVIEW: IT'S SO MONEY! INSTRUCTIONS TO ANY FUTURE SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT WISHING TO ABOLISH CHRISTMAS at COALMINE THEATRE

Years ago, I was in a writing course and the instructor said, "Don't write about money. Nobody cares about money." I sat there and thought, "What planet are you from?"

Sorry lady.  Everybody cares about money.

Certainly, Canadian playwright Michael Mackenzie cares about money. In  INSTRUCTIONS... an intense two-hander, he explores complex notions of trust, value and relationship during a global stock market collapse. Most disturbingly, he uses the event to consider the destructive impact of the greed and self-absorption of  a broad swath of the "me first" boomer generation on its children.

Mackenzie's tragedy is set on the eve of of the cataclysmic market "correction" of 2008.

Cass, an emotionally fragile young woman who seems to have Asberger's syndrome, returns to work for her boss, Jason, after months away. Jason is a hedge fund manager, old enough to be her father.  It's around four in the morning.  He's in his office, in his underwear, beating the crap out of a punching bag. He's a bit surprised and somewhat nervous to see her.  Cass had a breakdown and has been in treatment and therapy, after an "incident" at work that involved him, somehow.  On the advice of her therapist, she's come to speak to him about the incident. On the advice of his lawyers, he's avoiding the subject of  "the incident" like the plague. He wants her to use her intelligence to protect his massive wealth from encroaching disaster.

Diana Bentley, twitching and fluttering, brings the brilliant, awkward, and damaged Cass vividly to life. She truly is Cassandra: truthful, intense, whip-smart, and delivering a message her overlord doesn't want to hear.. Cass knows this Jason has fleeced people. His tottering hedge fund is a morass of bad debt, questionable math, and shareholder value built on human atrocity.

Ted Dykstra's is superb as Jason, a man who vacillates between being a suave arch manipulator, and a bitter, resentful, mid-life crisis mess. Dykstra's Jason is a man so deeply immersed in half-truths and fallacies that he's come to believe his own lies.

Steve Lucas' set and lighting are simple, but effective. The choice of painting above the desk is a particularly nice touch. David Storch's excellent direction makes both the play's dense array of  ideas, and the shifts in dynamics between Cass and Jason clear and  fluid.The harrowing conclusion is a sucker-punch.

"INSTRUCTIONS..." has been widely produced in French-language theatres in Canada, but only once  in English, and that was in Montreal, in a co-production between Crow's Theatre and the Centaur.

Perhaps taking on Bay Street is still a bit too seditious for most Toronto theatres. It's tough to bite the hand that feeds you. Coalmine has mounted a compelling and very well-acted production of an intelligent and challenging play. It's well worth checking out.

INSTRUCTIONS TO ANY FUTURE SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT WISHING TO ABOLISH CHRISTMAS by Michael Mackenzie continues at the Coalmine Theatre at 7:30 PM from Tuesday through Sunday  until June 19th.  1454 Danforth Avenue (near Pape Station) For tickets and information:  http://www.coalminetheatre.com