Oddly enough the thought of "documentary theatre" never entered my mind. But once it had, and once I was ten minutes into Crow's Theatre's production of SEEDS, I was flabbergasted that no one had done it before. If they had, I sure hadn't heard of it.
Currently on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts is SEEDS, a documentary theatre piece about the historial battle between the agricultural corporate giant Monsanto, creator of many genetically modified crops (in this case Canola), and Saskatchewan Canola farmer Percy Schmeiser. The legal battle commenced when Monsanto sued Schmeiser for using their genetically modified canola seeds without paying the royalties for it ($15/acre). Schmeiser fought back maintaining he didn't steal the GMO seeds, but that they were blown onto his land from neighbouring farms because of weather and other means beyond his control.
The story unfolds with the character of the playwright (the ever amazing Lisa Repo-Martell) as the central narrator. We watch as she goes about her research for writing the play, interviewing Monsanto employees, scientists, farmers, Schmeiser, etc. (what the playwright Annabel Soutar actually did), and as she finds out information and puts the story together, the audience is simultaneously let into the loop along with her.
Clearly Monsanto, the sleazy, bottom-line, corporate giant, is hiding something. Clearly, they're trying to make an example of Schmeiser and let the rest of the farmers know, if there was any doubt, who's boss. Or are they? All of the above may be true, but just how innocent is Schmeiser? What does he get out of this fight?
My emotions were played like a fiddle and I loved it. I love a show that has me hating the enemy one minute, but empathizing with them the next; I'm reminded of the varying sides to every story, I feel like I'm getting a well-rounded explanation of events, and that my resulting opinion is based on a story told as objectively as possible. It's so satisfying.
SEEDS is educational (Canadian history AND science, together!), well executed, outrageously well acted (how many different physicalities can Alex Ivanovici do? Eric Peterson is also at his finest.) and the set is beyond cool. When entering the theatre, you're greeted by the actors, in costume, milling about a set that's a cross between a modern university lecture hall, a science lab and a living room. It looks rad and the multi-dimensional uses of it, are even radder.
Now that I've experienced it, I am convinced that documentary theatre is something that has been absent from my life for far too long, and if SEEDS is any indication of what documentary theatre is all about, I am thrilled about the prospects of its future in my life.
Don't let the confusing poster design scare you off; you should see this innovative show.
SEEDS is currently on at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill St., Building 49). unti March 10. For tickets, click here or call: 416-866-8666.
Scene from OBEAH OPERA. Photographer: Nation Cheong
Theatre Isn't Dead contributor Tanisha Taitt, is a Toronto-based singer/songwriter, theatre director, producer, actor, arts educator, activist, et al. She took in OBEAH OPERA on opening night and has a FEW things to say about it.
C'mon Toronto, we want more theatre like this!
The name OBEAH OPERA was likely chosen for its alliteration. The title is a bit misleading, in that those expecting to see actors perform the classical-style, soprano singing that we associate with female "opera" singers, aren't going to get that here. And while it is almost entirely sung through, calling OBEAH OPERA a musical might be more accurate.
Call it what you want -- just don't call it less than highly ambitious.
Set during the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, the play tells the story of a young woman named Tituba (Joni NehRita). Alongside many women accused of witchcraft, Tituba is charged with practicing obeah, a Caribbean spiritual practice considered evil and an affront to Christianity.
Who knew that a West Indian practice was part of such an infamous period in American history? OBEAH OPERA creator Nicole Brooks was fascinated when she made the discovery, and set out to tell the story. With the support of b current and its Artistic Director andri zhina mandiela, also the show's director, the show was originally birthed as a 10-minute piece. Now a full-length production is on stage at 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture.
The most captivating thing about the piece is that it is performed entirely a cappella. The score is demanding and could easily have eluded the capabilities of lesser vocalists. Composer and librettist Nicole Brooks and musical director Tova Cardonne make a fine team and the vocal arrangements are tight. Ultimately though, the success of OBEAH OPERA rests on the singing and, thankfully, it is beautiful. NehRita, Saidah Baba Talibah (Mary), Macomere Fifi (Elder), Saphire Demitro (Sarah) and Brooks (Candy) each perform solos with confidence and passion. In addition, there is a sterling 10-member chorus. The 15 voices blend with seemingly no effort at all. The slightest veering off-course could have led to a dissonant mess, but the harmonies are spot-on.
As Tituba, NehRita possesses a voice of great power and sweetness but not a typical gospel belt, and that makes her a vocal standout. However in terms of sheer charisma, no one in the cast can touch Saidah Baba Talibah. Whenever her Mary comes to the fore and begins to sing, the rest of the cast almost seems to fade into the ether behind her. This is no reflection on the other actors, but rather a testimony to Talibah formidable's stage presence. The simple but tasteful work of set/costume designer Julia Tribe and lighting designer CJ Astronomo is highly effective and atmospheric.
I had two main quibbles with the production. First of all, there are elements to story that could be clearer. I found that Ihad to check my program after to answer questions that could've been addressed more clearly in the libretto. As well, the show suffers from instances of unfortunate blocking. While I can appreciate the difficulty of staging a play in which the whole cast is onstage and moving throughout, I became frustrated with the choice to repeatedly move the character of the Elder on and off the stage by having her go up and down a ramp in the theatre's centre aisle and simply stand in a highly distracting place when she wasn't part of the action. We repeatedly were treated to her back in moments when the elder is bestowing her advice on the women. I felt that along with detracting slightly from the visual picture -- it wouldn't have taken anything away had she climbed the ramp looking at the women but faced forward to sing -- it depleted the potential potency of those moments not being able to see the expression on a highly expressive face. I also found the intermission jarring; it felt unnecessary and I feel that the show's emotional impact would be better served by performing it in one act.
That said, one cannot help but root for and be impressed by the group of extremely talented women who bring this tale and this lovely score to life. Nor can one deny the obvious talent and bright future of Nicole Brooks. "Opera" or not, OBEAH OPERA is a unique creation, and an admirable achievement.
- By Tanisha Taitt
OBEAH OPERA is playing now until March 4 at 918 Bathurst St. For tickets, click here or call:
Jim Ivers is the latest Toronto Irishman to take on Martin McDonagh's amazingly scathing and hilarious dark wit.
THE LONESOME WEST, the last play in McDonagh's Connemara trilogy, is among his more famous works and it opens tonight as part of the Toronto Irish Players season. Below, Ivers talks shop about what its like to be immersed in the comedy and tragedy that is Martin McDonagh.
1. Tell us about the play and why you chose to direct it.
THE LONESOME WEST is a black comedy. It is the third play in a trilogy about fictional characters in Leenane, which is a real place located in the West of Ireland. Together with THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE and A SKULL IN CONNEMARA these plays offer a dark satire on the institutions of family, state and church in Ireland. The traditional domestic settings suggest the familiarity of the pastoral play about the virtues of Irish peasantry, but these expectations are subverted by depictions of sadism, venality and murder. I have long admired Martin McDonagh's plays and films and THE LONESOME WEST is a particular favourite. I suppose the fraternal warfare between the two brothers always reminded me of the sibling rivalry of my own two sons, although I hasten to add that their shenanigans pale in insignificance measured against the Connor brothers!
2. Martin McDonagh is among the better known Irish playwrights, what is it about his plays that make them so popular?
McDonagh's popularity is rooted in his subversive black comedy. The kind of humour in his plays is the kind where you find yourself laughing out loud and almost immediately feel guilty. There is an example of this in the play where Coleman and Valene laugh at the revelation that Father Welsh's first name is Roderick and then realise this is in poor taste and simultaneously pull serious faces. He also happens to be a highly accomplished writer who believes you should leave the theatre with your head buzzing, as if you had been to a rock concert.
3. What do you hope people take away from the show?
It is a blackly comic extravaganza but I often felt that the productions I have seen failed to illuminate the tragic undertones of the play. I hope we have managed to achieve that while maintaining the comedy at the same time.
4. Have you directed a McDonagh play before? How do you feel about getting into the dark and dirty places his dramas often go?
I have not directed one of McDonagh's plays before but I did my Masters dissertation on the influence of gothic cinema on his plays. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE is the film which influences THE LONESOME WEST. I have directed Tracy Letts's KILLER JOE which is the play which McDonagh credits with putting him on the road to his current style. I feel very comfortable with this type of black humour and really enjoy working in the genre.
5. Can you tell us something about this production that we may not know?
When the play was originally written there were only three characters and Druid Theatre's Garry Hynes influenced the additional character in the final script. The play is set in 1993 and eagle-eyed soccer fans may notice the reference to Ireland's World Cup match against Holland which actually took place in 1994!
6. What's coming down the pipe for the Toronto Irish Players?
A reading group is drawing up a shortlist for the upcoming season. Plays with multiple female roles are currently popular.
The Toronto Irish Players present THE LONESOME WEST, playing Feb. 23-26, March 1-4, 8-10, @ the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St.) For tickets click here or call 416-440-2888.
A 9-year-old with leukemia doesn't exactly provoke images of singing or laughter, but if you stop in at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, you'll see just that. DANI GIRL; a new musical about Dani, a nine-year-old girl with cancer, is playing now until March 4.
Armed with her teddy bear, her imagination and her courage to persevere, Dani attempts to discover the reasons cancer exists while also insipring bravery and hope in those around her.
Forget washing a man out of our hair or listening to the songs of our favourite singers be recycled with a show tunes flair, this is where all musical theatre should be headed: dealing with difficult, real life issues that push the boundaries of comfort and are deftly explored in the way that only music can do. This is the future (and relevant survival technique) of musical theatre.
I wholeheartedly applaud the writers of DANI GIRL, Michael Kooman (music) and Christopher Dimond (book & lyrics); getting anyone to give this show a chance, could not have been easy.
I encourage you to experience the show. For sure. It is inspiring to see what the medium of music theatre can do and this show will someday be a huge smash hit; however I should also tell you that it doesn't seem like a finished product. Not just yet.
While the cast and crew did a remarkable job with the space, the confines of the TPM Backspace made the show feel cramped, and look unfinished. Sometimes I felt like I was at a backer's audition or I was seeing a show still in workshop stage (which it might be, but the show wasn't presented as such). There are elements that need cutting - Jeff Madden's character of Rafe is nonsensical and irrelevant at times, making the plot unnecessarily confusing, but kudos to him for his commitment to the bizarre role. Amanda LeBlanc as Dani's mother is so 2-Dimensional (she's religious and LOVES to pray) that it's almost comical, and Johnathan Logan who plays Dani's friend Marty, needs to spend more time around children to actually know what they behave like. It seemed like the only well-rounded, complete personality was of Dani herself and while Gabi Epstein charmed the audience, the show can't rest entirely on her shoulders.
But there are really gorgeous and touching moments in the show: Dani singing about her determination to get her hair back after chemo, and again about her choice to sacrifice something she loves for the greater good of cancer patients; and LeBlanc's song about the pain of watching her child suffer is basically a showstopper. In comparison to these really remarkable moments, it seems odd when other moments in the show are so amateur.
Because of this, I'm convinced the show is still in workshop stage, however I am also convinced that when the show has completed all of its finishing touches, it'll be exactly what the musical theatre industry needs.
DANI GIRL is on now at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (27 Ryerson St.) until March 4.
For tickets, click here or call 416-504-7529
Photo by Susan Benoit. Gabi Epstein & Jonathan Logan in DANI GIRL.
DANI GIRL, a musical about a young girl battling a potentially fatal disease, opens today at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Although not a show for children, the production does remind us "adults", that the hope and optimism of a child is often the best medicine, and that child-like determination to persevere is nothing to be scoffed at.
Director of DANI GIRL, and theatre critic to The Star, Richard Ouzounian sheds some light on why he chose this show and why he continues to choose theatre, full-stop.
1. Why this play? I'm assuming you have a busy schedule of events and writing, so what was it about this particular piece that caught your attention?
I was brought down to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh over 5 years ago to work with the two young authors of this piece when they were still in school. I loved the work and their talent and have been anxious ever since to bring it to a wider audience. We did it in Barrie last year and Arkady Spivak of Talk Is Free Theatre and Svetlana Dvoretskaia of Show One Productions decided to bring it to Toronto, which was great.
2. How do you think your role as a Toronto theatre critic affects your directorial work, for better and for worse?
I worked as a full-time director for 20 years before switching to primarily media work in 1991. I chose to make it a secondary profession ever since and I don't regret it. I loved directing and still do, but when you have to do it for a living, you can't pick and choose your projects and you wind up doing things you don't like to pay the rent.
I think continuing to work in the business makes me both sharper and more sympathetic. I can spot bad work more easily and I appreciate good work with more enthusiasm.
3. As an add-on to Question 2: Since you do have quite a robust and diverse full-time job, what motivates you to continue to participate in theatre beyond the role of audience member and professional critic?
I love theatre, period. I don't just go to it because I have to. When I'm on vacation, I always check to see what's playing in any country around the world. And if you love something, you want to enjoy it in a variety of ways.
4. Given your outspoken criticism of Matthew Jocelyn and CanadianStage, how would you feel if he came to review your show?
Well that wouldn't make any sense, would it? He's not a critic and never has been. I ran many of the major theatres in this country and directed hundreds of shows before becoming a critic. I'm qualified to do both. Your question also raises the idea of reviewing as "payback". Anyone who uses reviews to take revenge on someone or something is in the wrong profession.
5. Given the breadth of Canadian theatre you see, what you do feel is missing in the national theatre landscape? By the same token, what do you feel Canadian theatre does really well?
I think this country is filled with tremendous actors and designers. We have lots of good playwrights as well. I know it sounds self-serving, but I think we are short of good directors. And if you talk to the people who run our theatres always looking for good people to hire, or to the actors who have to deal with a lot of the people who call themselves directors, you'd find that they agree.
6. Any more directorial work in the near future? Any projects you're excited about, and at liberty to discuss?
I return to Barrie in just a month to do a new adaptation (for four people!) of Great Expectations, that I've prepared. Next year I also hope to be directing a show with the graduating class at Sheridan, but I can't reveal it yet. And I'm also talking to the people at Hart House where I had an awesome time directing their record-breaking production of JERRY SPRINGER, THE OPERA a few years ago about returning to shake things up again.
It's never dull!
DANI GIRL is on now until March 4 at the Theatre Passe Muraille's Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave).
For tickets click here or call 416-504-7529.
Currently running at the Toronto Centre for the Arts and part of Dancap Production's 11/12 subscription series is IN THE HEIGHTS, the groundbreaking musical theatre show that won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
So when I saw the show, I thought
"Why isn't this blowing my face off?"
All the ingredients were present - high-energy music with catchy hooks, progressive plotline not typical of musical theatre (which makes me like it more), hip hop elements that are easy to nod your head to and pretty hot dance moves to boot. So wtf?
After reading the bios and seeing the cast's lack of experience, the lightbulb went off: it's a non-equity production.
I can only scratch the surface with my understanding of why non-equity productions are frowned upon. I know the Actors Equity Union is necessary and important, and I know that professional companies producing non-equity shows undermine the talent that we try and TRY to promote and protect; but I really don't know all the politics surrounding the scenario. If you want to know more about that, I refer you to Praxis Theatre and their article written by Michael Wheeler called,
"Why Canadian Actors' Equity Association is important and why it has to change."
or the Globe and Mail article: Actors' Equity protests non-union production of IN THE HEIGHTS
Click on the articles names to be taken to them.
I encourage you to learn more about it than I do and to continue the much-needed discusssion.
But what I DO know, is how I felt as a theatre consumer , and member of the general public, and being sold a false bill of goods.
This isn't a new revelation. An argument against non-equity shows is that it's misleading to the consumer. In the interest of transparency, I was fortunate to receive a comp ticket so I didn't have to pay to see the show; but depsite that, I still felt duped.
IN THE HEIGHTS is a big name as far as musical theatre goes. It was the rage in NYC for ages and the mention of "Winner of 4 Tony Awards including BEST MUSICAL" was on every marketing piece I saw and practically shouted from the rooftops. So I went to the theatre expecting to see Broadway calibre and was instead presented with something far from it. I was disapointed. I had geared myself up for the hottest show off Broadway since Southpark took over, and I spent my time convincing myself that it was, in fact, great and that my expectations are just always too high.
After further analysis during Act II, I decided that no, it wasn't and no they are not.
The cast of this touring production of IN THE HEIGHTS is absolutely, extremely talented. But their greenness came through at almost every turn and while that may be fine for a local remount, it doesn't cut it if it's being sold as something else.
To see IN THE HEIGHTS, you are charged prices ranging from $135-$40; prices equivilant to any other big budget production in the city. If a touring company, and their production partner, want to save money by using non-equity actors (and thus not paying equity fees), the communist in me says that you can't also charge Equity-production prices for the public's consumption of it. By doing so, it is not only unfair to the consumer but it's also false advertising. It's a general assumption that a touring production of a high-profile Broadway show is also going to be Broadway calibre. So anything less than that is unacceptable, particularly if you charge the same price as a Broadway show would. There is a standard to uphold and as consumers we should demand and expect that it be upheld.
I get that DanCap has a profit-margin to adhere to and that making theatre profitable is a tough business to be in, but that's the industry they chose, and if they get a reputation for bringing sub-par shows to town, they risk alienating the audiences they so desperately need to attract to stay afloat.
Is it worth it?
IN THE HEIGHTS is playing now 'til Feb 19 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts ( 5040 Yonge St.).
For tickets, click here.
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Red One Theatre Collective has spent the past five years dedicating themselves to site-specific theatre all over Toronto. From art galleries to parks to abandoned buildings, Red One produces shows that attempt to break down the fourth wall even further by mounting theatre in less-than-conventional spaces. Oh, and they're shows are typically pretty f*cking good too.
Amos Crawley, the director for Red One's latest show PVT WARS answers a few questions about their latest show and how the heck site-specific theatre is created.
1. Tell us about the play. Why this play? Why now?
PVT WARS is a one act comedy about three soldiers recuperating from their injuries, physical and mental, that they've sustained at war. When the play was originally produced, it was very much a product of the then-recent Vietnam war. It's not exactly a stretch to see the parallels between that conflict and the wars the U.S. is engaged in today. With minimal changes to the text, I think we've managed to not so much update the play, but highlight how timeless the experience of having wasted yourself in the favour of an abstract concept like "God & Country" really is.
I think that James McLure is adamant that it's our inner conflicts that warrant our energies, hence the title of the play. However, that makes it all sound rather high-minded, when the fact is that despite the fact that the 3 men in the play are figuratively paralysed (making them the lucky ones I guess), they are also all very funny and the play reflects that; it's quick paced and with any luck, full of laughs.
2. Red One Theatre's mandate is to use unique, unconventional venues in Toronto; how did you find directing/rehearsing in a non-traditional theatre space? How did it affect the blocking? The LX design The acoustics?
Red One's mandate is to bring the theatre to the people, not the other way around. The guys feel like there are a dearth of performance spaces in our city so they just go ahead and make them. In our case, we've certainly lucked out as far as location is concerned-- we're right at Bathurst & Bloor, TTC accessible, near all kinds of cool stuff. The Red One team had actually been sitting on this space, waiting to find the right play to put up there-- it had to be something funny, quick and punchy. It certainly limits you as far as design is concerned, however sometimes being out in a small box is the best way to come up with cool ideas. The whole show is lit with 100 watt household bulbs in clip lights and I think that what Melissa Joakim was able to do will surprise you; it really is a full lighting design. Likewise, Matt Dash was able to make sure that all his sound cues were recorded and mixed in such a way that we're getting minimal bounce, especially considering we're in a small, concrete box.
Jason Pooley, who has designed several shows for Red One, was in his element, he knows how the company works and came up with some clean, simple and efficient ways for us to turn the room at Gallery 561 into a theatre. As far as blocking, the unique challenge for me was the decision (to a large degree necessitated by the space) to do the show in the round. I've never done that before, and I found the experience to be humbling and exciting.
3. What's something that we might not know about this play?
As I mentioned before, Ben and Joe and the other Red One'ers had found this space and wanted to do something with it-- they had recently come off a production of David Auburn's PROOF and wanted to do something funny and fast. It seemed like a good fit. There are actually 2 versions of the play, the one act that we're doing, as well as a longer script. One of the interesting bits for me is that the while McLure (who died this time last year I think) dealt with his war experience in more than one play, this one really mines his Jesuit upbringing to some pretty funny results. He puts a lot of his strange and hilarious religious memories into the mouth of Silvio, an Italian-American sort of dirtbag kind of guy. Between Silvo and Gately who, like McLure himself, is a product of the South and the tightassed Natwick from Long Island, the plays shows a pretty great cross section of who goes to war, rich man, poor man-- everything in between.
4. Your last directorial foray (RATON LAVEUR at the Toronto Fringe) was a smash; how did this experience measure up?
Awfully nice of you to refer to Raton as a smash, I'm hoping more people get to see it in the not to distant future. As a side note you can see it right now, if you happen to be in Melbourne, Australia where a local company has produced it.... Working with Red One is a totally different beast in that with Raton, we had the support of a great festival (Toronto Fringe) and all the amenities that come along with that. These guys are straight up Indie Theatre. They are consistently producing work that looks like it cost more than it did and giving everything over to it-- I think that it's great that they are doing so without the aid of grants or any corporate support (not that I'm necessarily ideologically opposed to either of those things) and I really hope people can make the effort to support this company and other companies at this level. I think it's a really great and important strata for theatre in this city to exist in.
5. What's coming down the pipe for you next; what can T.O. look forward to?
I am hoping there will be another life for RATON LAVEUR, and I have one or two other projects kicking around the recesses of my brain that I'd like to see come to fruition in the next year. Otherwise if anyone's hiring, I'm available come opening night...
PVT WARS is on now at 561 Studios (@ 561 Bathurst St., Bathurst & Bloor) until Feb. 19.
For tickets click here.
When a large portion of the city was giddy over Theodore Bikel starring in the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company's production of VISITING MR. GREEN, I was like "Who?" "Why are we excited about him?"
I meant to see what Wikipedia had to say about the guy but I plum forgot. So it was the definition of a pleasant surprise to watch the play and see what all the fuss was about. For those of you who still don't know who he is, Theodore Bikel is an 88-year-old man who has a WEALTH of theatre and film experience; with many years spent as Tevye, the protagonist in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (he played the role 2100x), but he also spent time being directed by Sir. Laurence Olivier, in the company of then-US Pres. Jimmy Carter, touring the world and winning multiple awards. Not to mention having a leading role in preserving and promoting Jewish Culture which is a feat in itself.
But I didn't know any of this when I was watching him play the central character in VISITING MR. GREEN. All I could see and hear was a man very much in command of his voice, his body and his technique. There's an x-factor that really fabulous performers have - something intangible that sets them apart from others - and Bikel has that oozing out of his pores, even at age 88. Mazel tov.
His talent had me believing that I was witnessing something special; unfortunately this etherial, special quality was limited to him. The play, while perhaps poignant at the time it was originally written, when homosexuality wasn't as accepted, seemed dated - particulary when characters kept having to use pay phones - I just can't believe that anyone doesn't have a cell phone anymore. Jeff Baron's script was lacklustre and cliche; filled will easy jokes that only Bikel could carry off, leaving the other actor sharing the stage, looking lesser than he probably is. Aidan deSalaiz co-starred with the masterclass that is Bikel, and next to this lifelong thespian, deSalaiz had a phoney gameshow-host'esque delivery that was over articulated and lacked range. It probably didn't help him that he was kept busy with pointless movements around the stage and by distracting stage business.
If you're looking to witness a piece of history while you can, then I suggest you check out VISITING MR. GREEN so you can see Theodore Bikel in action. Otherwise, it might not be the best use of your time.
VISITING MR. GREEN is playing now at the Jane Mallett Theatre (27 Front St. E.) until February 18, 2012. For tix visit here.
Fortunately for us, Toronto is chock-a-block with dynamite theatre on a good day, and recently there have been more good days than bad days.
Currently, there are two shows running that are created by, and feature, forerunners in Canadian creativity, talent and ingenuity: CRUEL AND TENDER at Canadian Stage, directed by Atom Egoyan and featuring Arsinée Khanjian, and PENNY PLAIN at Factory Theatre created by Ronnie Burkett, and featuring him along with his Theatre of Marionettes.
First things first - if you haven't seen a show created by Ronnie Burkett, you're missing out. BIG TIME.
He is literally one of THE most talented people I have come across. Ever. Not only does Burkett design and build all the marionnettes, he writes the show, is the voice for all the characters, and is the sole maniuplator of the puppets. All of which are done with such precision, it's easy to forget that the characters on stage are not moving at their own will. It's a stunning acheivement for one person.
PENNY PLAIN, currently running at the Factory Theatre is his latest creation, and, although it's beautiful, it's not his best work. At times the story veers into 'Where are you going with this?' territory and there was too much time spent on extraneous dialogue. The show could've used some scissors. (!!0 mins with no intermission is long!)
But despite that, the man's a creative genius and his ability to create deep, rich, compelling and real characters is still ever-so-much in tact. There was an audible collective gasp from the audience when a marionette reappears at the end of the show, who had obvious signs of abuse.
All of us were invested in this make-believe world of apocalypse and puppets. We laughed, we cried, and it was absolutely better than CATS. You need to witness the genius of Ronnie Burkett and his Theatre of Marionettes. It is literally unlike anything you've ever seen before.
Another phat-cat of Canadian talent is Atom Egoyan. That guy who was nomiated for Oscars and stuff? He's directing a play a CanadianStage called CRUEL AND TENDER, an adaptaion by playwright Martin Crimp of Sophocles' tragedy THE WOMEN OF TRACHIS.
It stars another hot commodity in the Canadian arts world, Arsinée Khanjian as Amelia, a spoiled woman of the West who is waiting for her husband to return from war in Africa, unaware that her world will be forever altered with the news of the war atrocities he has committed, and by the arrival of Laela, a young African woman for whom her husband has fallen in love with. Struggling with these shocking revelations, and coping with her own feelings of neglect and loneliness, Amelia attempts to bring her husband home from war by (spoiler alert!) poisoning him, and ultimately killing him.
I enjoy a solid and epic Greek tragedy, and the set design by Debra Hanson reflected the grandiose, non-naturalistic feel of the play. Plus it looked very cool. The supporting cast were strong and the costumes were beautiful.
But... I didn't care about it. Any of it. The only character I felt somewhat connected to was Brenda Robbins as the Housekeeper, and there were times when I had to deliberately shift my attention to action on stage other than Arsinée because she annoyed me so much. Her intentional, heightened delivery of dialogue served only to distance me further from the story, a Brechtian technique worthy of doing if it serves the play and it's intent, but it didn't work here.
There was such build-up to this play and hype about the creative team behind it, that it really needed to knock-my-socks off to measure up. Unfortunately it didn't. For a play that discusses the horror of war, I didn't feel horrified nor did it make me reflect on war in Africa or elsewhere.
So what was the point?
PENNY PLAIN is on at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.) unti February 26. For tix visit factorytheatre.ca
CRUEL AND TENDER is on at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E) until Feb. 18. For tix visit canadianstage.com