By Lindsay L. Swanson
Girlfriends, wine and bookclub – the theatrical version. What could be better for a girls’ night out?
It' s not a challenge to anticipate what you can expect from 50 Shades! The Musical. However, despite meeting your expectations on the sexy content, you will be surprised by the quality and talent of the performance. It is a fun, campy parody of the infamous story of Anastasia and Mr. Grey, and a true raunchy delight for the liberal woman!
For those of you that welcome theatrical representations of sexual depravity – along with thousands of Fbombs in song and prose – this show is for you! (Warning: if the idea of theatrical representation of ejaculation is too much for you to handle, perhaps you are better off passing on this show.) If you were a fan of Evil Dead: The Musical, you will definitely be a fan of this performance; if you found Evil Dead too vulgar, do not attempt to see 50 Shades!.
50 Shades! tells the story of the sweet young virgin Anastasia Steele and her ‘romance’ with the handsome and dominating Christian Grey. Or so he is depicted in the novel. Jack Boice s a fantastic Grey – and shows off his talents in all areas of song, dance, and humour. Another actor – perhaps one more fitting of the above description – would not have been able to pull of this role or performance. If I sound like I am being vague, it is intentional.
The rest of the cast are also superb in their flexibility as actors, and their multi-faceted talent as singers, dancers and comedians. Comedic timing is key for success – and this cast owns it. The three suburban bookclub moms who narrate the show are hilarious – and portray the stereotypical soccer-mom demographic of the novel’s audience to a T.
Whether you have read the books in their entirety, or flipped through them like schoolgirls looking for the sexy parts… or merely learned the gist of the books' content: grab some girlfriends, order some wine, and sit back and enjoy some unique songs that I promise you will never hear anywhere else.
50 Shades! The Musical is on at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E.) until April 13. For tix click here.
By Michael Hodgson
This season, Young People’s Theatre has focused it's attention on plays that illustrate how youth have the capacity to change destiny and better the world around them. This adaptation of the greek myth of Theseus and the bull-headed minotaur is truly outstanding and successfully fulfills the company’s intention. Polka Theatre (England) and Clwyd Theatr Cymru Theatre for Young People (Wales) and YPT have decided to bring this play to the world en masse. Young People’s Theatre has also been working with junior students from the Downtown Alternative School (TDSB) to educate them on the entire process of play development and creation.
The script, by England’s Kevin Dyer, empowers the young Freddie (Theseus) to enter the maze of the minotaur to save his father. The script fuses together the stock characters of the Heroin, the King, the Evil Sidekick, the Hero and the Beast and allows them to travel from 1,000 years ago to today. While the time travel-changes are tricky to follow at times, what we do see is that a father and son’s bond is timeless and universal. Dyer seemingly is influenced by the fantastical worlds of “The Princess Bride” and “The Never Ending Story.”
Without a doubt, the six member cast carries this show magically. There is an epic battle scene in which the six actors portray 28 evil nephews and I could have sworn there truly were 28 nephews running around. The standout performance is Jakob Ehman who plays the role of Freddie. Both his commitment to his character’s quest and his outstanding physical work (his slow-mo fall to the ground was a standout) brought us along on his journey. The ensemble work here is strong and connected. The role of Pasipahe, played by Karen Robinson, was also strong in commitment however, the speaking voice adopted by the character was at times grating. The direction by Alan Dilworth really uses all strengths of this cast to blend traditional greek conventions (melodramatic work and direct address) and realism as well.
I have become extremely fond of the YPT programs as of late. I highly recommend this production for youngsters who will inevitably become enamoured by the clever tale and the young heros ability to overcome his fears. The adults in the house will also appreciate a unique take on the quest narrative and the wise work of Dilworth’s direction.
MINOTAUR is on at the Young People's Theatre (165 Front St. E.) until April 13. For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
Do you like samosas? I do. They are delicious. But what is even better than samosas is a truly enjoyable 90 minutes spent observing a mother and son debating their love for each other WITH samosas.
A BRIMFUL OF ASHA is the most "un-theatrical" theatre I have ever experienced. And I mean that as a true and sincere compliment! It is the retelling of a real story – by two of the people entwined in that story: Ravi Jain, and his truly lovely and adorable real-life mother, Asha Jain. Asha unnecessarily disclaims her acting abilities, preparing the audience for any missteps or hiccups in the story that she may cause (as a result of not being an “actor”). But she has absolutely nothing to apologize for. What she and her son unravel onstage is a truly delightful re-enactment of a day in their life of… well, their life as a family, as a mother and son, and as a modern day Torontonian family – one that bridges both generations and cultures.
If you’ve experienced the clash of cultures within your family, you will appreciate this performance. If you have experienced a difference of opinion between generations within your family, you will appreciate this performance. If you have had a parent that loves you beyond any social or personal boundary that you try to establish, you will appreciate this performance. This story is the story of a mother (and a father, although unrepresented onstage), doing what they feel is reasonable in “supporting” their son towards his settling down into adulthood… that is, into marriage. However unwelcomed this support may be.
The result is a hilarious – and heartwarming – retelling of awkward family moments that are common to all family members that serve to bridge generations and culture.
Upon entering the theatre, you are met with a warmth and familiar sense of family. Asha and Ravi are the gracious hosts; they quickly become the people that make you feel welcomed. They represent so much, yet claim to represent so little. They are humble and kind, and you are instantly drawn to them. By the end of the story – their performance - you want to be their friend. To be their daughter. To be their sister. Despite Ravi’s very genuine complaints – which are justified (an ad in an Indian newspaper that yields a binder of proposals… essentially a binder of women!) – this story is full of warmth and love, and it is a delight to bear witness to.
You do not have to understand their specific culture to appreciate this story. If fact, you needn’t have gone through any semblance of Ravi’s experience to appreciate this story. I hadn’t. Yet, I laughed, and enjoyed every minute of their repartee. All you need to fall in love with these characters – these real people, this family – is compassion and warmth. And a whole lot of humor.
A BRIMFUL OF ASHA is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until March 22 AND again from October 8-11, 2014. For tix click here.
There are few things that are so overwhelming to me that I sometimes have to look away from them just to catch my breath. Climate change is one of these things. SEA SICK, the one woman show by Alanna Mitchell, adapted by her award-winning book of the same name, is her journey to 20, 000 leagues under the sea and how dire it, and therefore our, situation really is. And it really is bleak. Our endless spewing of carbon into the air is heating the water which is sucking out oxygen, which is killing marine life, which is killing us. Slowly. But surely.
Although it took Mitchell a while to get to the heart of the matter, when she did, she spoke passionately and unmistakeably personally. Her discoveries of the impact of the ocean devestation stick in your brain (the point I would think), and take your breath away. Her discoveries aren't uplifting, and neither, frankly, is her good-idea-in-theory "solution". The prognosis is bleak, but we already knew that and hearing it is probably one of the most important messages of our lives. Literally. Unfortunately it's something we can't look away from. No matter how much we want to.
Mitchell makes the point, more than once in her show, about how science and art can mix together. How both are important and when used together they can enhance the impact of the other. That's what SEA SICK does. It delivers the science through art, and makes the cold, hard facts heard in a poetic way that the facts alone could never do.
SEA SICK has 2 more performances at The Theatre Centre's beauty of a new building. The new building is a gorgeous artistic space in Toronto and we are lucky to have it. Truely.
Click here for tickets and here to view the upcoming season at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W.) which is sure to be chock-a-block with more intensely thought-provoking shows.
We need to talk about Allegra Fulton.
You can see her on sage until March 30 as the sole actor in Nightwood's THE CAROUSEL, a one-woman, multi-character show where she plays a woman plagued by the demons - good and bad - of her family's history. It shows us that we really can be the sum of our familial parts. It also shows us that Allegra Fulton is an absurdly talented person.
THE CAROUSEL is a complex play. The story jumps through time non-sequentially, the narrative changes characters rapidly, and it takes you places where you aren't completely clear as to why you're there. All of this doesn't necessarily make it a bad play, just complicated and requiring of your full attention for the 75 minute run (only 15 more minutes than a "House of Cards" episode so it's not really overly strenuous on the brain). What keeps your attention rapt to the stage is Allegra Fulton.
Fulton is on stage solo and plays several characters that range in age approximately 60 years. None of these characters are simple - they're all shouldering burdens from the past that they can't talk about in the present; they're haunted, they're unhappy. Fulton owns it from the get-go. She immediately embodies each of the characters no matter how rapid-fire they change, and she moves gracefully but ever-so quickly around the stage, on all levels, throwing herself into whatever this character needs at a particular point, with absolute gusto. As I watched the ease with with she appeared to do this, I was totally awe-struck. This performance must be exhausting; but it didn't show. She's fabulous.
Also pretty fabulous is the set and projection design by Nightwood's own Denyse Karn - both are subtle yet otherworldly and created just the right vibe to showcase Fulton. The show is directed by Canadian treasure Megan Follows, and while I think sometimes Fulton was a bit TOO busy with stage business, Follows and Fulton must have had a symbiotic relationship to create such a complete performance.
I think they should do it again. Soon.
THE CAROUSEL is on at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) until March 30. For tix click here.
Let me be up front about this: I have never worshipped at the shrine of Stephen Sondheim. It's not that I don't want to, I've just never got around to figuring out what the big hairy deal was (and still is). So let me be clear and admit that I"m not a Sondheim aficionado. I also don't fully grasp his impact or significance on the musical theatre genre. Sorry. I can't change facts, however, I am willing and interested to learn.
I will admit that when I saw the production of MARRY ME A LITTLE at the Tarragon last week, I thought "OK, I can sort-of see what the big hairy deal is." Sondheim's lyrics are smart, they're funny, they're poignant and they're tough. Tough to sing, tough to rhyme and even tougher to perform in the notoriously high notes and varied range that he liked/s to work in. It must be an immense challenge for a singer, and therein lies part of the rub of Sondheim; he's a worthy adversary.
MARRY ME A LITTLE isn't a Sondheim musical. It is...but it's not. The show was originally conceived in the 80s and the songs are all pulled from other Sondheim musicals like "Company" and "Into the Woods" or lesser known B-roll Sondheim. So it's considered a musical revue, and not a full-fledged "actual" musical (don't ask me who made up these rules). All to say there's very little dialogue and practically the entire show is sung-through; so it is still very musical.
Director Adam Brazier set the show in a Manhattan apartment, focusing the songs around the story of a couple's relationship cycle. Aside from a couple of songs that didn't make sense with the plot, and some extraneous movement from both actors, I thought Brazier created a tidy, modern, intimate musical. The couple, Elodie Gillett and Adrian Marchuk, are clearly talented and have the chops to sing Sondheim and the premise of the show about their relationship cycle, and relationship cycles in general, was topical and honest. I dug it.
What I do know about Sondheim is that his work is about relationships, and what I also know is that it's hard to depict relationships (any kind of relationship) in a way that feels contemporary and true without schmaltz or falling into gender stereotypes. MARRY ME A LITTLE felt like an unschmaltzy window into a romantic relationship that didn't create villians or tragedies out of either character, and that seems pretty Sondheim to me.
MARRY ME A LITTLE is on at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until April 6. For tix click here.
By Michael Hodgson
Presentation House’s production of the classic story “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak is a primary drama schoolteacher’s dream come true. This production has a long history and succeeds in fulfilling Sendak’s original wish to keep the story feeling intimate. I recall this story being a favourite of mine in my childhood so was quite excited to see it on stage.
The teacher in me is quite accustomed to sitting on floors so when asked to do so, I knew my March Break feeling of ease would be delayed for just another fifty minutes. What I gained in being surrounded, on the floor, by wide-eyed children and their urban parents, was a journey into imagination and whimsy. I say it is a drama teacher’s dream come true as the audience is involved in the production from the get-go and I can see any one of my students wanting to play along with the story. Linda A. Carson (mom and narrator) invites us into the Wild Thing world and we interact with her immediately, making the audience feel more like a community – and reminding me of what it felt like to be an excited/anxious elementary student waiting for what was about to arrive while sitting on the school's gym floor. We are another character in this production and we feel important.
“What does your Wild Thing look like?” Carson asks the audience old and young alike, to visualize and play along. We know what we are in for and, fortunately, any adult hesitation is quickly tossed aside. How can I not smile when the children around me are frozen like their wild thing or are helping to make a soundscape of "wild thing" sounds?
Enter Max, played by Raes Calvert. I always feel for an actor playing someone a quarter of their age, but Calvert certainly does this with ease by playing on the quick-witted audience’s interjections and improvising with the kids as they come to take part on stage throughout the show. Max guides the students through his journey and dares us to scare him with our masks (we all got one and I abandoned thoughts of germs and just put it on.) This is not a tech heavy show but Max’s bedroom easily becomes a forest with the use of a few bed post trees and one really long vine that we all grab a piece of in the audience – again drawing us in to the tale.
I look at this production as a lesson in how to engage the young and to recapture the feeling of youth for the older wild things among us. Presentation House did not disappoint me in the least. The story is still my favourite childhood story. Where I may have had doubts that a 37 page, mostly illustrated book, could come to life – I was reminded quickly exactly how it could be done: by using that wild thing inside all of us – our imagination.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is on at Young People's Theatre (165 Front St. E.) until March 30. For tix click here.
By Jeffrey Johns
Guys? This play is pretty freakin’ good. Like crazy good.
Two characters: identified only as M. and W. No breaks. No costume changes. A set made up of only a rectangular hardwood floor and two matching backing walls. No furniture. No chair. No stool. Just two actors, their dialogue and their movements to tell a story that spans across both time and venue. Like, how is that even possible!? Well I am here to tell you that it is.
When the lights go up, we are introduced to M and W, as the thirty-something couple stand in line at Ikea. As they wait, M floats out to his girlfriend W that perhaps they should consider trying for a baby… and we’re off!
Lesley Faulkner as W, and Brendan Gall as M, are fabulous. They are out there, on stage, with only one another, and each line and gesture are spot-on. The dialogue between the two feels very genuine throughout. It is at times very funny; the laughs come not in a “quippy”, deliberate way, but instead organically and naturally, as we watch the two characters try and find their way. There are also moments of poignant sadness that feel just as genuine.
In particular, the play does a nice job of addressing the environmental angst of people that have grown up in a first world country in the age of climate change and global warming. People who want to be good global citizens (recycling!), but are not necessarily prepared to dedicate their lives solely to saving El Mundo, and then feel kinda guilty about being too selfish to do so.
Funny, touching, and real.
Four Go See Its out of Five!
LUNGS is on at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.) until March 30. For tix click here.
By Stephanie Silva
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is the third of Hart House's productions that I've seen in the last six months and I walk away more and more impressed every time I leave the theatre. Though I'm quickly becoming a Hart House regular (or so I'd like to think), this was the first production of GDGMJ I'd ever seen, which has made this review a real challenge to write because I can't stop thinking about the play as Ann-Marie MacDonald's—her commentary on female identity and it's representation in literature (and our interpretation of it) and how the issues MacDonald first explored in 1988 remain relevant issues today; not mention, her quick, quick wit and humour. But I won't bore you with my critical analysis and will instead stick to Carly Chamberlain's fantastic rendition of this important Canadian play.
GDGMJ centres on Constance and her quest for self-discovery. A struggling academic, Constance finds herself feeling defeated after her thesis is dismissed. Constance claims that Shakespeare’s plays Othello and Romeo & Juliet were intended as comedies, and would have been understood as such if it weren’t for the absence of the Wise Fool in each of the Bard’s works. In a hilarious scene, a frustrated Constance throws her thesis and a few random personal items (including her appendix, preserved in a jar) into a garbage bin and is very dramatically sucked into the bin herself, transported, first to Shakespeare’s Othello and then Romeo and Juliet. Between these two worlds, though at first unbeknownst to her, Constance adopts the role of the Wise Fool, taking the audience on an epic adventure where she alters the plots of each play and reverses the tragic outcomes for both Desdemona and Juliet.
Lesley Robertson’s embodiment of Constance is perfection. She carries the entire play with a consistent commitment to the character. From the awkwardly endearing way she sways, shuffles her feet and wrings her hands, to her on-point delivery of MacDonald's smart and funny dialogue, Robertson's performance is so, so good. It is easy to forget that she's acting; her portrayal is incredibly authentic.
The set is minimalist yet captures everything the audience needs to fully understand the story. Cleverly, Scott Penner blends the Elizabethan-era backdrop with a stark modern-day academic's office in the foreground. The plot moves between Constance's life and the worlds of Shakespeare's Othello and Romeo and Juliet seamlessly without one set change.
The stage effects used to transport Constance to and from Shakespeare's world merge the use of darkness, bright light and bold sound—this both impressed and surprised me. It was like nothing I've ever seen at Hart House before.
I'm seriously thinking about seeing this production again; it was that good. A story about personal identity, and how life puts us fully in control of forming our own (we are, after all, our own Wise Fools), Chamberlain's take on GDGMJ made me laugh and think about my own journey. Instead of handling life's challenges in defeat, I will now recognize the agency I have to change the course of things and know my worth. Constance taught me that.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is playing at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until March 8. For tix click here.
By Daniel Nyman
For anyone who doesn’t know who Daniel MacIvor is:
A) You need to get out and see more theatre; and
B) once you see his work, you will understand why he is one of contemporary Canadian theatre’s most celebrated theatre artists. A BEAUTIFUL VIEW was originally produced in 2005 by da da kamera, the company through which MacIvor presented and toured his work around the globe for almost 20 years. A decade later, Toronto based company, Volcano, in collaboration with Munich’s BeMe Theatre, are remounting the play at Toronto’s Factory Studio Theatre.
Like much of MacIvor’s work, A BEAUTIFUL VIEW serves as theatrical storytelling at its finest. The play centres on the relationship of two nameless women who meet under quirky circumstances in a camping store. The play follows the two women as they move through their lives, recalling the defining, re-defining and un-defining their relationship. Director, Ross Manson, takes a minimal approach to the production’s design, configuring the theatre with audiences on either side of the stage facing each other and using only handful of props. This choice of staging focuses attention on the performances of the two actors as they play out MacIvor’s thoughtful and often humourous narrative.
As the nameless women, Amy Rutherford and Becky Johnson do an excellent job creating both engaging performances, carrying the audience along from the meeting point of these seemingly different characters through to their discovery and exploration of a deep seated connectedness. MacIvor has written two very quirky almost eccentric characters, and Rutherford and Johnson successfully tread the line ensuring both the humour and humanity of the characters shine through and not simply falling into the realm of cartoonish portayals.
A BEAUTIFUL VIEW ends where it began: in a tent. Throughout the 65 minute play, there are occasional hints as to the inevitable conclusion of the storyline. Without giving the details away, the ending does feel a little harsh and contrived. That said, the strength of the play is in watching the relationship between Rutherford and Johnson evolve and grow, and the specific plot points function more as devises rather than being the focus of the play. To this extent, A BEAUTIFUL VIEW leaves the audience fulfilled, having journeyed with its characters to an inevitable and thoughtful conclusion.
A BEAUTIFUL VIEW is on at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.) until March 9, 2014. For tix click here.