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.
What's better than watching teenage girls exercise their creativity and empower themselves through art? Very little.
In just under 16 hours you'll have another chance to see EMOTIONAL CREATURE on stage at Young People's Theatre. Written by Eve Ensler of V-day and "The Vagina Monologues" fame, EMOTIONAL CREATURE focuses on the teenage girl and her various lives around the world, where she's fat, she's dangerously thin, she's insecure, she's strong, she's scared, she's fierce, and she's traumatised. And she's real.
The joy of the show lies in the 13 actors on stage who are diverse and beautiful and fabulously raw. They totally rocked.
EMOTIONAL CREATURE will brighten your spirit - go see it Sunday, February 23 at 2pm at Young People's Theatre (165 Front St. E.) Don't worry, it's after the Olympic hockey game.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
In the late 1800s, George Bernard Shaw – then an emerging Irish playwright – began a correspondence with the English actress, Beatrice Stella Campbell – more commonly known by her married name, Mrs. Patrick Campbell (but also referred to as Stella). This correspondence continued for over 40 years.
The letters have formed the basis for the production CHER MENTEUR , a French version of the original play adaptation DEAR LIAR. CHER MENTEUR is the recital of the letters by GBS, played by Albert Millaire, and Stella, played by Louise Marleau. For the non-francophone audience, the production is subtitled.
The letters began with GBS’ intrigue of Stella – a young man trying to get a girl’s attention, and grew into a heated and passionate infatuation – of a man to his muse. To use the term “love affair” may be apropos of the letters given their date-stamps, however none of the letters indicate that any physical relationship blossomed. So, we can assume that this correspondence was pure in its innocence, relative to our modern day definition of “innocence”; but relative to the early 1900s, they were down-right scandalous – full of sultry passion, blended with the wit and intelligence of two well-versed individuals.
We get a sense of how scandalous this relationship would be percieved when it become obvious that the letters' existence causes GBS great concern for the pain and heartbreak they would in turn cause his wife, should they be exposed. That said, the letters continue until Stella’s death, in agreement that none of the letters from the now-infamous George Bernard Shaw will be sold by Stella for any profit (despite the fact that she was an elderly woman struggling to find roles to support herself).*
The familiarity between GBS and Stella is real and raw, despite the genteel prose of the early 20th century. Millaire and Marleau are superb in their roles – as their recital of the letters soon transforms into real time. GBS and Stella become familiar – not just to each other, but to the audience as well. Millarie and Marleau become GBS and Stella – so much so that it was an upset to not see Millaire’s face in Google’s search results of “George Bernard Shaw”. But that is what good acting does: it transports you to another time, and allows the actor to rewrite history for the audience. (Wasn’t there some story about a post-"Braveheart" statue of William Wallace bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mel Gibson?)
Despite the drastic differences of the letters’ time period compared to present day over a century later, some things are constant – the written word, regardless of medium, is powerful and intimate. If you have experienced the intimacy of a developing relationship – via email, text, social media, or if you remain a traditionalist: handwritten letters – you will surely appreciate this story. Similarly, if you have a proclivity for sophisticated wit, you will enjoy the sharp-tongued dialogue.
* There are rumours that GBS’ 45+ year marriage to Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and political activist, was never consummated – at Charlotte’s insistence. GBS was also rumoured to have had multiple affairs with married women.
Theatre francaise's CHER MENTEUR (Dear Liar) is on until March 1 at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
In A SOLDIER'S TALE, Michael Greyeyes attempts to link the effects of war on soldiers, their communities, and the society of people living within the war, left to deal with the aftermath.
The production is broken into two acts – the first set during World War II, and based in small town Saskatchewan; and the second act is set 50 years later in the Iraq desert. What is interesting about these stories, however, is how Greyeyes has focused on the forgotten soldiers – the soldier stories that were not teaming with honour, or national pride. These are the stories that were not talked about – most certainly not during the WWII era.
A SOLDIER'S TALE is a contemporary and interpretive dance production. At times it is not the most seductive or attractive of dance numbers, but it is certainly impressive. As someone who is not well-versed in contemporary dance, I did find the dance numbers long and challenging to decipher in interpretation, however the Company’s talent and the masterful direction is undeniable.
There are so many elements to this production that are pulled from pages that have been left buried for years, and generations. While it is not a secret that soldiers – from any war, any time – faced challenges adjusting to life back home, there are elements – details – that were not discussed, particularly during the WWII era. A SOLDIER'S TALE brings these hidden secrets to the foreground, and attempts to demonstrate how the shrapnel of these secrets impacts everyone they touch.
The production is heavy. Extremely heavy. And the overall effect of the contemporary dance, multimedia, and live music/chanting may leave your head spinning. (I am still reeling from the second act).
However, if you are a fan of contemporary dance, this is a must-see; if you are up for a heavy representation of war, and all the terrible things that come from it, go check out A SOLDIER'S TALE at the Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West) for one remaining night, Friday February 22. For tix click here!
By Lindsay L. Swanson
No one puts Arrabal in the corner.
In the musical-dance community, ARRABAL is sure to become as classic a story as "Dirty Dancing".
But the similarities of the stories end with the steamy dancing. ARRABAL is a story of political unrest in Argentina, murder and the search for closure for a mourning family.
The story is told almost solely through live instrumental music and latin dancing, and, although there were a few moments where the adoption of a non-verbal narrative left me a little puzzled as to what exactly was happening, such moments were rare. More often than not, the use of dance and music as the storyteller produced moments of heartbreaking poignancy that a traditional dialogue would be hard-pressed to equal. The production also makes use of an impressive multi-media providing enough historical reference to set the scene for the subsequent word-less script, all presented by an extremely talented dance ensemble company.
The story begins in 1979, as we meet Rodolfo, a young man fighting against the brutal dictator of Argentina, General Jorge Rafael Videla. Rodolfo soon disappears from his family – including his baby daughter – at the hands of Videla’s goons. Rodolfo has become one of the thousands of protestors that vanished under Videla’s rule.
The story then flashes forward 18 years, when we meet Arrabal – the young beautiful daughter of Rodolfo who meets the spirit of father during a dream. Arrabal is lead to Buenos Aires by her father’s spirit, where she is both challenged by the big city – a coming-of-age story – as well as challenged to solve the mystery of what happened to her father.
Despite not being familiar with Argentina’s history, or Videla’s role therein, this production is so well done that it transports you to another place and time – and into the passion of the story’s characters. The dancing is superb – and beyond sensual.
It’s a modern and sexy adaptation of a somber story from years passed, and it does well in each theme: from the heavy and powerful multi-media montage of all the missing protestors – and the mourning mothers left behind; to the fun and casual audience-interaction, including on-stage ‘cabaret’ seating and pre-show tango lessons. Overall, it is an entertaining night of dancing, while taking in some culture and history.
ARRABAL is on at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.) until March 2. For tix click here.
METAMORPHOSIS a play adapted from Franz Kafka's novella of alienation, prejudice and the limits of love, is currently playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. If you want a feel-good story, this is not your bag, however if you're looking for artistic inspiration, this is definitely pour vouz.
Kafka's story isn't sunny: Gregor, the son and sole proprieter of his family, wakes up one day and he is transformed into a giant insect. Repulsive and disgusting to his family, he stays in his room while his sister tries to care for him and his parents figure out how to make ends meet. But as time progresses, Gregor is a burden to his family and they resent it. He is neglected and misunderstood until a tragedy of errors culminates in (spoiler alert!), Gregor's death. His famly is relieved and happy, and they make plans for their wonderful life without him. It's no Neil Simon.
However I was thrilled to bits watching this show. I don't know about you, but I feel unrelentingly joyful when I'm experiencing fabulous art. When I'm watching something that is really fabulous and really challenging and it's going so very well, I feel pure joy at the mere occurance of the it. This feeling happened during METAMORPHOSIS and the bulk of the credit goes to Bjorn Thors who plays Gregor. Thors was AMAZING. His embodiment of an insect was physically demanding, and emotionally exhausting and he was in it to win it 100% of the time. I couldn't take my eyes off him and the completely lit up the stage. He definitely raised the bar for what an actor is capable of on a theatre stage. To be fair, Thors was supported by an equally excellent cast, a creative set-design and very tight direction. The entire production is top-notch and even if you're into the happy-endings, you may still find your joy here.
METAMORPHOSIS is on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) until March. 9. For tix click here.