Monday, November 14, 2016


It's November.  Even on a sunny day in Toronto, there's not much light, at least not for very long. Brief and golden when it comes, grey and dismal on the overcast days: by 5:00 PM it's dark.

Maybe it was contemplating November,the month of Remembrance Day and Dia de los Meurtes that has encouraged so many of Toronto's theatres to open their seasons with meditations on death and its aftermath.

In ACQUIESCE, currently at the Factory, David Yee looks at the relationship between an estranged father and son in the aftermath of the father's death. The play begins when the son is tricked by a distant cousin into coming to Hong Kong to bury the father he avoided his entire adult life. Sin hated, still hates his father. He's also much more like him than he wants to admit.

What do we get from our parents? As we, and they, age, what do we owe them?  Duty, devotion, charity, compassion?  What do we understand about their lives, really?

Sin has run, no, fled his past, but he hasn't escaped it and it threatens to overwhelm him.

It's a familiar journey; the angry young artist rebel son making peace with the ghost of a controlling and demanding male parent. Thanks to sure the directorial hand of Nina Aquino, a lovely design (Robin Fisher, sets, Monica Lee - props) and gorgeous lighting by Michelle Ramsey, ACQUIESCE feels like a fresh look at a universal human story.  It's beautifully and inventively told.

Aquino fills suitcases with luminous images: the shimmering detritus of the inescapable past.  She also makes great use of the Factory's often difficult mainstage, using its depth to move the action forwards and backwards in time.

While the play is deeply affecting,  it also has moments of flat-out hilarity: a talking stuffie in the form of Paddington Bear, Kai's obsession with face cream.

The cast:  Yee as Sin Hwang, the author, John Ng as his old-school Chinese immigrant dad, Richard Lee as Kai, the Hong Kong cousin and the embodiment of filial piety and duty, and Rosie Simon as Sin's long-suffering girlfriend, Nine all do fine work here.

Yee initially wrote this play as a much younger man.  The first act could have easily lost 15-20 minutes and never missed them.  It's a minor fault with a moving, heartfelt story about fathers, sons and families. The Factory's 16-17 season is off to a very good start.

Love, loss and string theory are currently on the boards over at Canadian Stage where  CONSTELLATIONS, British playwright Nick Payne, gets a Toronto production.

Ostensibly, the play is a human exploration of a scientific theory. If there are other universes, could there be one in which someone who is dead here on earth, is alive somewhere else?

The conceit of the play is this:  a man, Roland  (Graham Cuthbertson) and a woman,(Cara Ricketts) come together and drift apart, through a series of repeated scenes, played for different emphasis and effect.  Their choices within the scenes determine the range of outcomes.

You can see why actors love this play. It's really an extended acting exercise.

I've seen other plays written using the same construction. Toronto playwright, Erin Thompson had a hit on the Fringe with MEET CUTE  two summers back, which I think worked a lot better dramatically than this beautiful to look at, but oddly chilly production.

As a theatrical examination of human relations and theoretical physics, CONSTELLATIONS can't hold a candle to say, COPENHAGEN or POSSIBLE WORLDS. In spite of a gorgeous stage production, CONSTELLATIONS is also not a particularly engaging love story.

Hinton and his design team create an exquisite visual allusion to our planet's place in the universe: a tilting platform floating adrift in the cold, beautiful heavens.  The opening stage picture  with its wash of clouds and the mirrored back wall suggesting infinity is utterly arresting. The live cello accompaniment by Jane Chan underlines the action with an aching loveliness. The staging is fantastic.

The couple at the heart of the piece, alas, don't have much chemistry onstage. In a measure that further distances the audience from the material, they eschew the British accents written into the dialogue and perform them in good old Canadian, a decision I always find distracting.

The conceit of CONSTELLATIONS is much better as theory than as theatrical practice, although it's worth checking out for Hinton's fine production of an OK play.

AQUIESCE continues at the FACTORY THEATRE until NOVEMBER 27th: For times and tickets go to:

CONSTELLATION continues at the Bluma Appel Theatre, CANADIAN STAGE also until November 27th. For dates times and tickets:

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