Wednesday, November 16, 2016


The first thing that struck me when I walked into The Citadel for THE DAMAGE DONE last week was the smell of fallen leaves.

The stage is covered with them, drifts and piles of them.  Collapsing beauty, decay, loss, remorse, and nostalgia for the long past autumns of childhood are all evoked by the dying foliage bathed in a golden light, courtesy of Guiseppe Condello .

At the back of the stage hangs an industrial window, the frame rusted, the panes dirty with one visibly cracked.  Downstage, a man in middle age uses a park bench as a balance beam, walking the planks with his arms out, then pitching pebbles at the fractured pane of glass.

This is Bobby (Wes Berger) and he's here to meet his childhood sweetheart, Tina (Sarah Murphy-Dyson) at their old haunt, a park in the working-class neighbourhood where they grew up. She's asked to meet to see if he will take their two girls for awhile, while she goes away to get straight.

If you're a George F. Walker fan (and I am) you've met Bobby and Tina before.  THE DAMAGE DONE is the third play in Walker's trilogy about the estranged couple and their travails.

In the earlier plays, TOUGH and MOSS PARK, Tina and Bobby are a young, off-again, on-again couple, struggling to face parenthood.

Nearly 20 years later, Tina has boot-strapped her way out of a childhood of abandonment and privation.  She's married a lawyer, got a house, gone back to school, become a social worker, raised two kids - and become an addict.  Bobby, a dreamer and petty criminal has gone in and out of work, and in and out of his children's lives. He's trying to write, and dreams of a life without the drudgery of manual labour.

Walker shows, as Dickens did, what poverty does to people. The stress created by insecurity about having one's most basic human needs met traumatizes survivors.  Poverty may be behind Tina, but the fear it has created in her has never gone away.  In the aftermath of a break-up, it's threatening to engulf her. Bobby, underemployed and slacking, looks like a disaster, but Tina is the one who is falling apart inside.

Berger and Murphy-Dyson have great stage chemistry and inhabit their roles with an authentic physicality, nicely enhanced by Ken Gass' confident, understated direction.

As always, Walker and Gass  underline the warmth and humour,as well as the challenges and sorrows of Bobby and Tina's troubled relationship and their messy, imperfect lives.

THE DAMAGE DONE is a clear-eyed and impassioned look at the  long-term consequences of an impoverished childhood. I had tears in my eyes at the end of the night.

Saturday night, Red Snow Collective opened COMFORT at AKI Studio, in the Daniels Spectrum Theatre.

Diana Tso revisits a particularly ugly aspect of the Second World War: the so-called "comfort women". Chinese and Asian women were captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and brutally used as sex slaves by Japanese troops.

Tso and her director William Yong tell this difficult story with great artistry and sensitivity, employing dance, live music and Chinese opera to support the well-researched text.

Tso uses the frame of a famous Chinese story, THE BUTTERFLY LOVERS to underpin the love story of Li Dan Feng and Zhou Ping Yang, who cannot be kept apart: not by class differences, parental opposition, or the truly awful catastrophe of war.

Viki Kim and Jeff Yung are very affecting as the star-crossed lovers. The rest of the cast does a fine job in a multiplicity of roles, handling the tonal shifts and physical demands of the various characters with great dexterity. I particularly enjoyed Oliver Koomsatira as Ping Yang's faithful and mischievous cormorant.

The live music by Constantine Caravassilis is wonderfully played by Cathy Nosaty (piano, Accordian),Patty Chan (Chinese  violin) and Brandon Valdivia (percussion) and greatly enhances the production.

I felt the second act could have been trimmed a bit, but the ending was heartfelt with out being in any way sentimental or cloying.

The play is not only an homage to the survivors of the comfort women's horrifying ordeal, it's a powerful plea for an end to war.
Aleppo ran out of food this week. The cries for an end to violence can't be loud enough.

These two new Canadian plays by smaller,independent Toronto companies are both well worth checking out.

The Damage Done by George F. Walker continues at
The Citadel, 304 Parliament Street (south of Dundas), Toronto

to December 11, 2016 (NOTE - No performances on Dec 1 &2)
Tues - Sat 8:30 PM,  Sundays at 2:30 PM
Sunday matinees are Pay-What-You-Can at the door. Tickets are available at   or by phone at 416-946-3065.

Red Snow Collective presents Comfort until December 10, 2016 at Aki Studio Theatre, Native Earth Performing Arts, 585 Dundas Street East (Daniel’s Spectrum), Toronto, ON  Tuesday – Saturdays @ 8pm • Saturday Matinees @ 2pm   Pay-What-You-Can Tuesdays
Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 416-531-1402, or in-person at Toronto Centre for the Arts’ Box Office, 5040 Yonge Street

PROARTE DANZA Opens Tonight as part of NEXTSTEPS at the Paula Fleck Theatre

Called "the best small-scale contemporary ballet company in Canada" by the Globe and Mail, (2012) ProArte Danza has been presenting its unique fusion of ballet and modern dance  in Toronto since 2004.

I've seen the company several times now, and I've never been disappointed.  The talent of the dancers and the strength of the repertoire are both consistently first-rate.

Tonight, ProArte opens their 2016 Toronto run with a double-bill featuring Fearful Symmetries a world premiere choreographed by Artistic Director, Roberto Campanella and Diversion the Ontario premiere of a work by Artistic Associate Robert Glumbeck that Vancouver's Georgia Strait described as "mind-blowing."

Campanella's Fearful Symmetries employs American composer John Adams' composition of the same title to underscore an exploration of the choreographer's own experiences as a young immigrant arriving to Canada from Italy, against that of the current generation of young artists, with particular attention to the influence of urban aesthetics and pop culture on both.

Robert Glumbeck's Diversion examines various departures in life, both expected and unexpected, with the company of eleven dancers performing to an electronic score by Britain's Marconi Union.

This season, ProArte's  dancers are Sonja Boretski, Caryn Chappell, Tyler Gledhill, Benjamin Landsberg, Ryan Lee, Sash Ludavicius, Tori Mehaffey, Daniel McArthur, Julie Pecard, Anisa Tejpar and Christopher Valentini.

I have seen fragments of this work in rehearsal in the studio and it was both charged and beautifully danced.  I can hardly wait for tonight's performance.


ProArte Danza Season 2016 Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, 207 Queens Quay West, 3rd Floor  from Wednesday, November 16 until Saturday, November 19th, 2016 nightly at 8:00 PM.  Tickets range from $25 - $45 with discounts for students, seniors, arts workers and groups. To order, call (416) 973 4000 or go to

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:

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Last Wednesday on a chilly, dark autumn night, a few short days before Halloween, I went to see Coal Mine Theatre's season-opener, British playwright Laura Wade's BREATHING CORPSES.

It's a perfect late autumn entertainment: a dark elegiac meditation on mortality, and the effect one person's death can have on the people around them, even those who never knew them in life.

A group of seemingly unconnected characters are impacted by a series of violent deaths: a suicide and two murders.

Wade's play is elegantly constructed, smartly written, and filled in equal measure with difficult relationships and dark humour.  Here, doors are a potent and chilling metaphor. Do you really want to know what's on the other side?

Director David Ferry and his talented cast: Simon Bracken, Erin Humphry, Kim Nelson, Johnathan Sousa, Benjamin Sutherland, Severn Thompson and  Richard Sheridan-Willis skillfully enrich the inter-connected stories with their performances, bringing individuality, poignancy and charm to each  character and relationship.  I particularly enjoyed Erin Humphry's turn as a chambermaid in a semi-sketchy hotel. Is the sparkle in her eye the twinkle of charm, or the glint of pathology?

As always at Coal Mine, the show makes excellent use of the minimal space, in great measure due to the excellent set design by Steve Lucas.

In his notes in the program, Ferry muses on the difference between determinism and chance in the matter of death. Certainly none of us will live forever: that much is determined. The rest?  Wade's twist of an ending left me in shock:  horrified and laughing uncomfortably at the same time.

BREATHING CORPSES is a very entertaining night of theatre: especially if you like a walk on the scary side of the street. On a dark, wet November night, is there any other side?

BREATHING CORPSES continues until November 13th at the COAL MINE THEATRE,  1454 Danforth Avenue from Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30 PM with a matinee on Sunday at 2:00 PM. For tickets and further information go to:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Interview: WhyNot Theatre Presents the Beautiful and Innovative Like Mother/Like Daughter

Ravi Jain has got to be one of the busiest guys working in theatre these days.  He's remounting A BRIMFUL OF ASHA, his run-away hit about his relationship with his mother.  He and his mom open at Soulpepper later this week.

He's also helmed a fascinating piece of devised theatre ending its far-too short run at 918 Bathurst Street tonight, where mothers and daughters get together around a dining room table, and talk about their relationship, their histories both apart and together, and the impact of that relationship on their lives.

Full, rich, and fascinating, right?

Last Saturday afternoon, I spoke with two of the participants in the project, daughter, Ximena Huiza and mother, Isabel Iribarren about what drew them to the project, and about the process of creating the production.

Ximena is a theatre practitioner; an actor and creator.  Since graduating from the theatre program at Fanshawe five years ago she's worked in Toronto with Aluna Theatre. WhyNot posted on the TAPA blog, asking for mothers and daughters, where one half of the pair were born outside Canada.

You can tell Ximena and Isabel are related, not only from their features, but from their personalities and the way they use their bodies and hands when they talk. They're both lively, warm, sharp, engaged, passionate, smart: we talked for close to an hour and the time flew by.

Isabel and Ximena came from Venezula with their family, Isabel's second husband and younger son from her second marriage, Jesus, now 13.  Ximena started her theatre program when they got here.

When she graduated, she lived at home for 6 months. 'We can't live together!  We fight too much!"

Isabel went back to school also: a schoolteacher with a business degree, she went to George Brown here and got a degree in Early Childhood Education when she arrived in Canada.

As we spoke, I thought of the Chilean women I worked with at a formalwear rental shop in Winnipeg, while I was in university.  All of those women had been teachers in Chile:  in Winnipeg, they were doing laundry and steam-pressing suits in the back of the store. My own immigrant grandmother worked in a candy factory.  I'm glad Isabel is teaching.

I ask them how they are alike:  Ximena says, "Our personalities are so similar! We both want the last word."

How are they different?   At 27, Ximena is the oldest childless woman in her family in four generations.    Does she want children?  She looks at her mom.  They both laugh.  She sighs.  "Eventually, yes.  Not now!"

Her older sister is married with kids and living in the US.  So Isabel has those grandchildren moms seem to want. "Oh yes!  it's wonderful."

What is her best childhood memory?  "On Margarita Island, (off the coast of Venezula) where we used to go for summer vacations."

Their biggest worry? A pause.  We have a long conversation about both women's broken relationship with their biological fathers.  Neither sees or speaks to that man in their life.

We sit in silence.  I think of my own Dad and our mutual admiration society, how much we adored each other.  Last Saturday would have been his 81st birthday. Even though he's gone, I still know I have his love.  Not having that in life is an inconceivable suffering to me. The pain of it knocked all of us on our heels, reeling in the  silence of that void.

Ximena says, "Here, I am Canadian.  But I tell my friends, if you want to under stand ma vida loca, you have to meet my mother. They you'll know who I am."

We stop.  We hug.  They go back to Ravi and the other moms and daughters to continue to prepare the show.

I saw Like Mother/Like Daughter last night with a girlfriend.  I would love to have gone with my own mom, but she's in Winnipeg, and I'm not sure she could do the stairs these days.

It's beautiful:  delicate, generous, inspiring, warm, funny, and in moments, heart-rending.  Just like going home to mom.

After the show, we are invited to join the performers around a dinner table to share food and talk about the experience of being there, of being mothers and daughters.  Connection, community, catharsis:  these are some of the best things theatre can bring and this show offers all of them.

Please bring this back!

WhyNot Theatre in collaboration with Complicite Theatre presents Like Mother/Like Daughter until October 30th at 918 Bathurst Street:

Saturday, October 1, 2016

For Jem Rolls: On the End of the Fringe and the Coming Winter

Dear Jem,
Only you
Could have written
With such insight and passion
About summer '16 on the road.
The permutations and the combinations
and the machinations
the money making
and the money losing
the worry
and the bitching
and the magic
and the pleasure and
the beauty
and the magic
and the
art and the joy and
the fun, fun, fun
until September rolls away...

One old grey, gloomy certainty
hangs over us all:
winter is coming.

We have survived other winters, you and I
In Winnipeg,
For the love of freezing!
I cherish my memories of you
wandering the streets of Fort Rouge
Talking to yourself like a madman
As you prepared for the inevitable
of seasons, and your next show.
I was just shivering over to Safeway or the MLCC.
No poetry was coursing through me,
Just thoughts of my next dinner
Or the week ahead at work.

The quotidian is not your metier,
All this fretting about ticket prices,
and board decisions
and un-lotteries,
and lousy, under-qualified reviewers
and whether or not
the clowns and the improvisors
and the re-mounters
Will inherit the circuit
Is just sound and fury
Signifying one sorry certainty:
The tour is over for another year.

Winter is coming: but spring will follow.

In eight months:
you'll be back,
a return as inevitable as robins
tender leaves and a warmer sun.

We're writers:
Nothing is going to shut us up,
 although we may
Spend the next few months indoors
in the zone of rumination and creation.
We need to really:
that new show won't write itself.
There will be another stage
and another audience
and more nights of
donning the motley
and going here and there:
So fret not:
There's only one Jem Rolls
and you must do
what you must do: write more poems.

Face it;
there's no point in worrying about money,
as my old dad often pointed out:
you're born owing the hospital
and you die owing the undertaker.

Sure five stars, a 300 seater and a sold-out run
in every town on the circuit
might make for a better winter someplace warm,
but you didn't think being a poet
was any way to get rich,
did you?

No one is getting rich out there:
We all know it.

We've done what we loved
with people we loved being with.
And on a good night, we put on a good show
people who spend their time off with us
enjoy themselves and give us $10 apiece.

I feel richer every time I get to do it.
For now I'll keep daily grinding
my way out of (tour) debt and treasure
my horde of memories
of time well wasted
with you sorry lot
on the road.

Sometimes the stars align
(and no, not the ones in the papers
on top of the reviews)
and you go home in September
ahead and not behind
with the bank and the backers.

Sometimes not.

Forget about money.

This was never about money.
It's a lottery.

Can you win a lottery?
Sure. We've both won CAFF.
And sometimes, you get that hit and the hold-over:
the dosh and the glory and the touch of envy.

The Fringe is about art and ideas and pleasure.
It is about intellectual freedom and being a free spirit
in a room full of free spirits being spirited together.

Uplift me
in the beer tent
and tell me of your travels
when next we meet.

The stars will align:
There will be more poetry,
More passion,
More pleasures
More warm, lovely summer nights.


Monday, September 5, 2016


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: 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


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. 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:

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. 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


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 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: 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:


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

Carl Bauer is a fine actor and will doubtless make an excellent pirate in Barb Scheffler's comedic script.

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


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.

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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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


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


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!

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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?

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!


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!


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!

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.


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.


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

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


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:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Last week, I saw two ideas-driven plays:  LOOKING FOR PAUL: INEZ VAN DAM vs. THE BUTTPLUG GNOME at  The World Stage Festival at Harbourfront Centre and THE SUMMONED, now running at the Tarragon Theatre.  Both productions provided plenty of food for thought, and that was, mostly, a good thing.

I wasn't looking forward to LOOKING FOR PAUL... A title with the word "buttplug" in it made me wonder if I was in for a night of adolescent prurience masquerading as gosh-awful  "shock" theatre.  Fortunately, not: the Rotterdam-based Dutch Flemish actors' group WUNDERBAUM delivered a sly piece of devised theatre that explores, in droll, tongue-in-cheek fashion, concerns around the aesthetics, politics and the function of public art.

The City of Rotterdam commissioned a sculpture from American visual artist, Paul McCarthy (not to be confused with Sir Paul McCartney, as they point out). McCarthy, whose formal concerns are ostensibly consumerism and mass media, offered the good burghers a monumental bronze garden gnome holding what could be interpreted as a bell, in one hand, and a rather curious looking artificial Christmas tree in the other. Apparently, that's not what those two objects are. The statue is referred to as both "Santa Claus" and "The Buttplug Gnome".

Inez Van Dam, the everywoman of this piece, is a bookseller with a condo above her shop.  The gnome is in a public square outside her windows. She can't escape looking at the damn thing, which she finds hideous. I confess she had my sympathies. It is both disarmingly kitschy, and disturbingly perverse.

The play  is a text comprised of the emails between the performers, the director, and Van Dam about a commission they've received to build a performance around the subject of the statue, and the issues arising from its commission, its subject matter, and its placement in Rotterdam. The performers read their letters to each other, seated on the stage. The "actual" performance is to take place in Los Angeles, the home of McCarthy, who they are desperate to meet.

LOOKING FOR PAUL because it is less of a discourse about art, and more of a buffoon episode of Seinfield:  a very funny play mostly about the hilariously pretentious and petty concerns of a bunch of rather flaky, self-important people.

The company doesn't really have a play to perform, and in spite of their American collaborator, Daniel Frankl,  they can't get an audience with McCarthy. Without the planned show-down between the creator of the statue, and the woman who hates having it outside her window to put on stage, they determine to instead perform a play McCarthy wrote: a very free adaptation of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF by Edward Albee. The company's leading lady is very pleased by this turn of events as she, not Inez will be the "star".

Alas, McCarthy's version of the great text is little more than a filmed orgy with a gross-out food fight thrown in for good measure. Two unfortunate technicians are employed to ensure the audience misses none of the gory details of this production, which is a mess in every sense of the word.  Mr. McCarthy's real preoccupations are on full display in the denouement, and aesthetics don't have much to do them.  I'll just say that I'll never be able to look at a tray of condiments in the same way ever again.  A Freudian analyst would have a field day with McCarthy.

LOOKING FOR PAUL... is a clever satire of  the demi-monde of modern art.  I can't recommend it to the easily disgusted, and I'd highly advise NOT sitting in the front two rows, if you care in the slightest about preserving your clothes. For the most part, the show was surprisingly charming, wickedly clever, and a lot of fun.

On Saturday night, I headed over to the Tarragon to see Fabrizio Filippo's THE SUMMONED.  An excellent cast: John Bourgeois, Rachel Cairns, Kelli Fox, Maggie Huculak, Tony Nappo and Alon Nashman (in a voice-over cameo) capably directed by Richard Rose perform this piece about the reading of  the will of a Steve Jobs type millionaire/ tech genius/recluse.

The group members, summoned to an airport hotel in Toronto, exhibit varying degrees of interest in what they'll inherit from a man they loved, feared, and hated and who held them in his thrall. The creator of the will was nothing if not willful, and his last word and testament is definitely a hand from beyond the grave. When all the players are assembled, an interesting cat and mouse game of selective revelations ensues between the all-too present deceased, and the people from his life on Earth.

As the play jumps from past to present,  Filippo plays both the underachieving son of the genius and the man himself.  Or is he the son?

Filippo is intent on exploring the ethical dilemmas arising as technology, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering advance and intersect. The script's play of ideas is nicely supported by the design team of Kurt Firla (video) Dylan Green (sound) and Jason Hand (lighting and set). Charlotte Dean's costumes also work perfectly.  I particularly liked the way she dressed Kelli Fox, who does a terrific job of playing a sexy, amoral shark of a lawyer.

The late David Bowie's SPACE ODDITY plays a prominent auditory cameo in the production.  As Bowie's iconic music washed over us at the end, I was reminded that the thing about genius is its uniqueness.  It can be copied or imitated, but when a genius dies, their gifts are lost forever. It is hubris to think otherwise.

There's a lot of plot twists and interesting ideas in THE SUMMONED. Take a smart, geeky friend.  You'll have much to discuss after the curtain comes down.

LOOKING for PAUL: INEZ VAN DAM vs. THE BUTTPLUG GNOME appeared as part of WORLD STAGE at HARBOURFRONT THEATRE from April 27-30, 2016. The festival of contemporary theatre continues until June 11th. or (416)973 4000 for information about upcoming performances.

THE SUMMONED continues until May 29th at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. or call (416) 531 1827 for dates, times, tickets, and information.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


This week, it was two nights of back to back dance, completely different and both worth checking out.

Thursday, Native Earth Performing Arts presented the closing show of its 15-16 season.  Like Canadian Stage, the company has determined to include productions in its regular season from creators and performers who work in traditions and disciplines other than theatre.

As the boundaries shift and blur between dance, performance art and theatre for artists and creators it seems smart for companies to to offer their audiences a broader range of contemporary performance on stage. 

Indigenous dance artists, particularly ones working within a frame of their own cultural traditions tend to get pushed to the margins.  The first show on the bill was the gorgeous to look at Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming by Dancers Damelahamid from the northwest coast of British Columbia.  The dance is performed in button blanket regalia and wearable sculpture created by Gitxsan artists Andrew Grenier, Cori Savard, Jimmy Charlie and David R. Boxley.   If you've ever seen a piece of Haida art, you have some point of reference for the visual aesthetic. The masks and regalia worn by the performers were absolutely stunning.

There's also a nice use of projected video (Byron Kopman, and Eagle Wing Tours, BC)  and animation by Dallas Parker that really help ground the performance in the West Coast environment.  Andy Moro provides the subtle, effective lighting. This is the perfect piece for the Earth Day weekend!

The dancers, Rebecca Baker, Margaret Grenier, Nigel Grenier and Jeanette Kotowich are also vocalists and the singing, as much as the dance, moves the piece forward. SPIRIT TRANSFORMING is an uplifting synthesis of music, dance and design elements.

I only wish it had offered a little more narrative clarity.  There was some singing in English, but I think surtitles, or perhaps more detailed program notes, like the ones you get at the COC would have been a help.

Then, there was a 45 minute interval during which we went next door and had a quite a nice dinner for $10 at the PaintBox Cafe ( $20 if you had a glass of wine, and tipped the waiter, as you should).  You can skip the dinner and just hang out, but if you're going to make a night of it, it's money well spent.

The next piece up was NGS (Native Girl Syndrome) by Montreal based choreographer, Lara Kramer.
Two utterly fearless performers, Angie Cheng and Karina Iraola ferociously perform a day in the soul-destroying lives of two street involved female addicts.

The piece begins with a screech and a roar of metal music and traffic as we see two staggeringly drunk Aboriginal women, clinging to their respective Jerry-rigged carts.  The stage is littered with detritus.  The characters' clothes are trashed:  ripped, shoes held together with duct tape. These are the people in society who are seen as garbage and treated as disposable.

Everyone who lives or works downtown in a big city walks past or over or around women like these two every day.  Kramer and her dancers show us their suffering, their struggles, their small attempts at dignity and their valiant efforts to survive in a world that treats them as worthless.  At one point, Cheng's character goes on a tirade of  repellant invective:  the judgements that have been hurled against her and are bottled up inside.

As the piece nears conclusion, the performers are wrapped in ragged bits of fur, huddled together for warmth and companionship.  We treat stray dogs much better than we treat many of the homeless humans in this rich country.

In the end, the stage is lit only with two screaming red exit signs forming both a demand and a false promise. We'll get to leave and go home, but for them, there's no way out.  On the way home, about a block from the theatre, on a cold rainy April night, my friend and I passed someone asleep in a sleeping bag huddled in a doorway.

Kramer and company have created a piece of work that sears like a bottle of acid. Yes, it could be ten minutes shorter, but I'll be thinking about NGS for a long time to come.

The next night, I headed over the the Paula Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront to see EPOCAS,  Esmeralda Enrique's  lesson on the history of flamenco.  You know that one great history class you took, with the teacher that made the past come totally to life?  This is that class.

A flamenco show is as much about the live music as it is about the gorgeous, ferocious, percussive dancing. Two singers: Manuel Soto and Tamar Ilana, two guitarists, Caroline Plante and Benjamin Barrile, Rosendo "Chendy" Leon, the percussionist, and Jerry Caringi on accordion provide the lush, rhythmic and sensual music that accompanies this crowd-pleasing show. The music is a stand-out and the band alone is worth the price of admission.

Enrique takes centre stage much of the night, although this time she shares the spotlight with the charismatic Rafael de Pino who burned up the stage in MI BAILE (Alegrias) his second-act solo.

Enrique's company of dancers are also very fine, and they execute her choreography with skill and flair. The large scale projections provide context and anchor each piece with a sense of place.

My favourite number of the evening was ZORONGO GITANO, where a full moon floated over Enrique and dancers Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, Paloma Cortes and Noelia La Morocha as they slid across the stage in their midnight blue ruched satin taffeta costumes to an Adulusian song with lyrics by Frederico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish playwright and poet. It was absolutely beautiful.

If you are a flamenco aficionado, you may find yourself shouting "Ole!" at various points during the performance, as many in the audience did last night.  For a relative flamenco neophyte like myself, this was a very enjoyable theatrical escape.  It would make a great early Mother's Day present.

Native Earth Performing Arts and DanceWorks CoWorks present an Indigenous Dance Double Bill at 7:00 PM at the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum Theatre, 585 Dundas Street until April 23 .

EPCAS by Esmerelda Enrique Spanish Dance Company continues at Paula Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront until April 24th.  or call 416 973 4000

Thursday, April 14, 2016

REVIEW: CAUGHT at Theatre Passe Muraille

Last weekend, I saw Jordi Mand's latest play, CAUGHT, in the intimate Passe Muraille Backspace. The Backspace is one of my favourite theatres in the city, not for comfort or beauty, but for the intimacy of the playing space, and the way the small room intensifies the experience of being in a theatre.

It was a perfect choice of venue for CAUGHT, which is set  in a tiny, soulless, concrete security room in a mall somewhere in Toronto.

A 30-something female security guard (Sabryn Rock) has apprehended a young male suspect (Jakob Ehman channelling his inner weasel) with a backpack full of stuff  he's shoplifted.  It's an amount of merchandise valued at over $2000, so the police are called. The young man is remarkably inventive and incredibly slimy in his myriad attempts to extricate himself from a situation he's created. The verbal sparring match between the guard and the kid alternates between fraught and frisky.

Then the police officer arrives ( a note perfect Meewun Fairbrother). Turns out he and the security guard know each other, and not just from the mall. Then, the cat and mouse games get really interesting.

Sarah Garton Stanley balances tension and humour in the production to good effect. There's great chemistry between the actors and the performances are all good.  Rock is particularly impressive, showing us the anger and bitterness in a woman who works in justice, but  receives almost none in her own life.

Mand is a very smart writer. As she did in BETWEEN THE SHEETS  she uses a highly charged situation to explore issues of status and power: who has it, who wants it, and what people will do to turn a situation to their advantage and make a power grab.

In CAUGHT, she examines what it really means to be trapped in a range of contexts: in an illegal act, in a dead-end job, on a rung of the professional ladder, in a bad relationship.  Who escapes, how, and why are all touched on, although some  of the issues she raises feel like they get short shrift.

The program says the play runs 75 minutes but I think it was closer to an hour, not really enough time to fully delve into the rich subject matter.  I really enjoyed most of CAUGHT.  The ending, alas, while blackly droll, feels rushed, and not as evolved as the rest of the play.  I think there's more to this story, and that perhaps Mand hasn't quite finished writing the play yet.

What's here is taut , provocative and very engaging, with a lot of food for thought about who gets off the hook, and why.

CAUGHT continues at THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE's Backspace until April 24.  or call:  416 504 7529

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I had an experience on Friday night that I don't have very often.  I walked out of a theatre at the end of a performance, shaking with disgust and rage.

Coalmine Theatre is currently staging Tracy Letts' 1993 play,  KILLER JOE. 

The actors:  Madison Walsh, Matthew Edison, Matthew Gouveia, Paul Fauteux, Vivian Endicott-Douglas all do fine work, physically and emotionally.  The play is very well directed by Peter Pasyk who cranks up the characters' despair, and the danger of their situation to terrifying effect. The set and lighting by Patrick Lavender work really well. Jenna McCutchen's costumes are appropriate, if a bit on the nose.

The play itself, alas, is ghastly.  This is a great production of a singularly nasty, misogynistic piece of writing, rooted in textbook Southern Gothic territory, with not a cliche left unturned.

Letts wrote AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, the Pulitzer Prize winning play about a dysfunctional family with a drug addict matriarch. We're in similar territory here in terms of familial dysfunction, but with a whole lot less finesse and a lot more violence, sexual and otherwise.

KILLER JOE was Letts' first play. He wrote it when he was 25. The set up is not bad, some of the dialogue is pretty good, and occasionally, someone gives a good speech.  It's not that the guy didn't show promise. 

Letts claims to have been heavily influenced by pulp fiction noir when he wrote it.  His plot owes a debt to noir, and its characters to both David Mamet and Sam Sheppard.

His female characters here makes Mamet look like a guy at the vanguard of feminism. The women in KILLER JOE are a sloppy mash-up of tropes derived from violent porn and bad television crime drama.  I suspect if Letts had not won a major prize for a latter creation, this ugly, pointless little tome would never see the light of day. 

The action is confined to the interior of a grimy trailer somewhere in Texas, complete with a junkyard dog outside, and and a big television inside. The dog barks a lot and the TV is usually on. The occupants of the trailer are the Smiths: father Ansel (Fauteux with a Duck Dynasty beard), step-mother Sharla (Madison Walsh oozing sexual agency), and Ansel's daughter from a previous marriage, Dottie (Vivien Endicott-Smith as a hot mess of a kid). The Smiths drink beer from a can, smoke weed and eat tuna casserole.

On a dark and stormy night (yes, really) Chris, Ansel's son from his previous marriage (a terrific Matthew Gouveia), arrives to borrow money.  Sharla greets him at the door wearing a cropped t-shirt and nothing else.  There's a good page of dialogue about her state of dishabille in the middle of the night, in her own home.  Why the man of the house wasn't the one to answer the door at that hour is never discussed or explained. Can you say gratutious nudity for shock value?

Sharla takes her naked derriere off to bed, while Chris explains to his father, that his biological mother, the thieving, alcoholic Adele (who we never meet) has thrown him out of the house because he slammed her into the fridge, with reason, apparently.  Adele, Chris claims, has purloined a stash of coke he was planning to sell to settle a debt with a drug dealer. Now he has no coke and no money, and the unhappy drug dealer wants him to settle up, stat, or else.

Chris and his father conspire to hire a contract killer, the Killer Joe of the title, to murder Adele, and collect on her life insurance policy, of which Dottie is the apparent beneficiary.  How or why Chris and Ansel think they are going to get Dottie's money is one of the play's many mysteries of construction.

Chris would like to use his portion of the money to start a farm, somewhere he can grow dope and raise rabbits.  He had a farm and rabbits once upon a time, but raising things requires thought, care and attention and the Smiths are not thoughtful, not careful, and not attentive. They are borderline feral, easily distracted, driven by impulse, and not especially bright. Their schemes do not go well, and this one is no exception.

Since all this machinating goes down in a trailer, which is an acoustically transparent domicile, both Dottie and Sharla are aware of the plans of the menfolk. Also Ansel tells Sharla, well, because, she's his wife. Sharla, it turns out later, has plans of her own.

Killer Joe is a corrupt cop, a sociopath with nice manners when he chooses, and a thing for little girls. Matthew Edison does a great job of showing us a tightly wound menace.

Since the Smiths can't furnish Joe with his usual cash upfront deposit, he takes their virginal daughter, Dottie, as a retainer.  Is Dottie 20, as she initially tells Joe, or 12 as she says later?

Sharla psychologically grooms Dottie, the virgin, for her deflowering by suggesting she serve a salad and rolls with the casserole and wear a dress to dinner. Sharla's collection of penis photos (which turns up again later in a different context) make an initial appearance in this unsavory discourse.

Then Joe arrives with flowers, for their "date" and the family leave Dottie alone with him. Post-casserole, he forces Dottie to get the dress she has told Sharla, then Joe, that she didn't want to wear and put it on.  First though, he has her strip naked and put the dress on with nothing under it. After that, he has her stick her hand down his pants.  We get to watch this because, apparently, the playwright felt we needed to see both actresses frontally nude.  No man takes his clothes off in the entire play, although a few turn up in their underwear. ( In fact, Mr. Edison did respond to a door being kicked opened by appearing buck naked near the end of the play, I have been reminded by the company's publicist.  My apologies to Mr. Edison for overlooking this in my earlier report. No slight was intended to his performance or his person.  My middle aged eyesight being what it is, perhaps I'm simply losing my ability to see certain things well at a distance, in a fairly dark room.)

After this sexual assault/courtship, Joe moves in with Dottie in the trailer. Why a police officer with a contract killing business on the side doesn't take her somewhere more comfortable for their assignations is never really dealt with.  It does serve as a convenient plot devise in machinating the play's graphically violent end.

In an early monologue of Joe's, he's quite clear that he doesn't likes grown women, and doesn't trust them. He does quite enjoy dominating, sexually degrading and brutalizing them, as he viscerally demonstrates, as the play builds towards a bloody climax.

That particular scene is so physically violent I actually feared for the actress' safety. Watching Joe abuse Sharla is like being stuck in the Big Ears Teddy chair on date night at Jian Ghomeshi's place.

Please, don't anyone write me any long-winded comments on how Joe is a metaphor for the way the American state and its agents treat its disenfranchised. Tennessee Williams'  27 WAGON FULLS OF COTTON or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or anything by Faulkner or Steinbeck does a much better job of that.

It's a pity COALMINE has squandered so much talent and effort on such a lousy, sexist play.

KILLER JOE continues at the Coalmine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, east of Coxwell Station, Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30 PM,  until April 24th.