After I saw the Canadian Stage production of David Mamet's RACE on Friday, I reserved a copy of the play at the public library. The play is so fast-paced and so full of banter-y dialogue, I felt like I missed some of the stark Mamet insight. The pace of the play is the best and worst thing about it. No - scratch that - Nigel Shawn Williams is the best thing about RACE; the speed of the script is the second. The snappy exchanges and cuttingly flippant remarks are thrown back and forth like a tennis-match on speed. It's great. All of the actors seem to be masters of their own tongues and each found their way through the dialogue in a way that would make Aaron Sorkin proud.
It works; until it doesn't.
The quick, bouncy, often heated, exchanges are inherent in the script; Mamet clearly wrote for this kind of fast delivery. But there were times when it seemed like the pace of the dialogue was driving the play forward, and not the actual words themselves. There were moments when I wanted the pace to relax, where it could have relaxed, shown us something powerfully different with the characters, and then sped right up again.
But that's the con of the show; the pros are (among others) that the acting was fab and the set design was amazing. Yes, Jason Priestly can carry his own on stage. No, he's not as commanding of a presence as Nigel Shawn Williams, but few would be, and I thought Priestly embodied the typical Mamettian-male character with comfort and originality. Williams is amazing. From his commandeering voice to his hilariously scathing lines, he's villainously cold, but you still root for him. Cara Ricketts sparkles as the legal associate with a mind of her own and Matthew Edison is appropriately pathetic as the man on trial for a heinous crime we've heard too much about as of late.
Debra Hanson's stark and overwhelming set-design was beautiful. File cabinets that reached up to the heavens provided an intimidating backdrop for stark, colourless, masculine office furniture. It was pretty, it was effective and I loved looking at it just as much as I did watching the actors.
RACE is 100 minutes of snappy theatre fun and while I wish I could have soaked in all the dialogue while watching the play, I'm jazzed to read it and acquaint myself with the characters again.
All Mamet-motherf*@%ing 4 of them.
RACE is on at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.() until May 5. For tix call: 416-368-3110 or click here. $10 rush tix through the Canadian Stage Facebook pg! Click here and get 'em!
Kristen Thomson, known for creating unique, multi-faceted characters for the stage (unanimous high-fives for "I, Claudia"), does it again with Cathy, a forty-something stand-up comic who has hit a funny bone dry-spell and as a result is drowning in narcissistic waters, kept afloat by self-denial and blaming her husband for her shortcomings. Cathy is funny. She's got a quirky, slightly vulgar sense of humour that makes you want to hang out with her at parties, but not to necessarily get any closer. She's clearly volatile and she's not afraid to use it.
Cathy's facing the breakdown of her marriage to Tom, naturally blaming the downfall on him, and Tom subsequently blames himself for everything else - especially the fact that he didn't live up to his own youthful anarchistic intentions. Tom finds comfort in April (the totally talented Bahia Watson) a young, clearly troubled girl who is desperately in search of something good to believe in, and is let down, once again, by Tom's selfish behaviour. Cue another bout of self-loathing.
Sounds bleak and confusing. And it is - but it's also strangely compelling to watch. I was riveted to the stage by monologues that take bizarre twists and scenes that don't really have an end, but I couldn't tear my eyes of the actors. Each character is so rich and so complex, I was starting to create their own back-story for myself and analyze them like they were real people. Whether they were frantically shrieking or totally mute, they were totally and utterly believeable.
And, just when I thought the acting couldn't get better - Damian Atkins wheels himself on stage in an electric wheelchair and rocks the stage with his one scene performance. This is not overhyped.
SOMEONE ELSE goes off the rails a bit with the narrative, and I wish it focused more on Cathy's turmoil instead of her husband's issues, as she's the more interesting character, but ultimately it is an actor's paradise and it's evident in every aspect. The show didn't take me where I thought it would, or where I necessarily wanted it to, but it sure was a fascinating ride.
SOMEONE ELSE is on now until February 2 at Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St.). For tickets call: 416-368-3110 or click here.
Everything about THE ARSONISTS, the latest play in Canadian Stage's 12/13 season, is cool.
Walking into the theatre, you're greeted by Ken MacDonald's gorgeous set-design. The three dimensional, multi-textured, multi-level set is like larger-than-life modernist dollhouse. I stared at it for ages and was still surprised by how versatile it was when the lights when down. Very cool.
The music, composed and directed by Justin Rutledge, is also dynamite. A bit more rock n' roll than usual for him, J.R. fills the theatre with strong yet poppy guitar riffs, all of which are easy earworms and ensured I was humming them for the remainder of the eve. The music effectively enhances the cartoon-like absurd/Brechtian-nature of the show and Rutledge has a presence on stage that's definitely interesting to watch.
In fact the acting of the entire ensemble is uniformly stellar. Littered with a 'who's who' of Canadian theatrical talents, the cast were a true team who played off of one another's talents to enhance their own, and never pulled focus for themselves. They were funny, they were serious (which was also funny), and they could turn it all off to make the mood just a BIT more menacing than before. A shift so subtle but clear, I got goosebumps.
With this show, director Morris Panych lives up to his (in my eyes) intelligent, tongue-in-cheek satirical reputation that allows the audience to critically examine qualities in ourselves while also laughing at them. He is really very clever.
Yet somehow, with all of these characteristics, the play didn't come together for me. Everything about the show was extremely well executed, but there was no throughline that cinched them all together and so I was left wanting. Perhaps this is intentional and a direct result of the Verfremdungseffekt (distancing techique) that doesn't allow the audience to feel emotive towards the on-stage characters. But sadly (or not), it is how I'm hard-wired, and I like it.
But, whether I wanted to love or hate the characters in THE ARSONISTS is beside the point; it is a rousing night at the theatre that's full of life and really very cool.
THE ARSONISTS is playing until December 8 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. W.). For tix call:
416-368-3110 or click here.
Canadian Stage's latest production, THE ARSONISTS, features original music by make-you-swoon singer/songwriter Justin Rutledge. In addition to composing the music J.R. also performs on stage (see a sneak peak in the video above!) appropriately increasing the 'wow-factor' for an already highly anticipated show. He answered a few Qs for me below:
1. You've composed music for a show before (Necessary Angel's "Divisidero"); with another show under your belt, how does writing music for the theatre differ from writing it for an album?
Composing for theatre differs from making an album because I must keep the director's vision in mind at all times. When I'm working on my own material, I get the final say, but in this case the songs need to be looser. In many ways it is liberating.
2. In the same vein, what induces more performance anxiety - playing in a show or playing a concert? I've never been more scared than when I step on stage at the theatre. Playing a show of my own seems very natural now, but acting is a very unnerving thing to me.
3. What advice can you give to musicians who might be looking to broaden their musical-horizons to include working in theatre? (ex. What do you wish you'd known from the outset? What was the biggest challenge for you?)
I don't have any advice for anyone. I am looking for some myself.
4. You've been exercising your acting chops quite a bit recently; will we get to see more of that?
I took a few acting courses this past year, and I believe it to be the most difficult artistic discipline. I would love to act more, but feel as though I have a lot of work to do.
5. Next album - when is it?! (No pressure of course. Ok, maybe a bit.)
My next album comes out in February 2013. It is called Valleyheart.
6. Personal Q: In the musical teaser clip that Canadian Stage released to the masses, you're smoking a pipe - is that a J.R. thing or a "I'm in my character" thing? No judging either way.
Oh that pipe is just a prop that one of my characters smokes in the play. I'm actually trying to quit smoking at the moment and doing very poorly.
7. What's next for J.R.? What's the next thing on your schedule that you're excited about?
I'm excited about the new album, but I'm also interested in working on more theatre. I love the people and the work ethic. It keeps me out of trouble.
THE ARSONISTS is on stage now at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. W.) until December 9.
I'm not going to pretend I understand what POLITICAL MOTHER, the latest (and pretty great) rock, modern dance show presented by Canadian Stage, is about. While watching it I was reminded of prisoners, both of war and of every day life, dictatorships, Hugo Chavez, Guerrilla Girls, PTSD, bi-polar disorder and loss. Quite eclectic.
Maybe none of that is correct, or perhaps all of it is, but I don't really think what's "correct" matters, I think it's more of your personal experience with the show that counts.
My personal experience taught me that the ensemble numbers with all of the dancers were my fav. Strength and power exuded both physically with their precise movements that changed dramatically on a dime, but also emotionally through their physical presence as a group on stage.
I couldn't take my eyes off of them and suddenly the music that was so loud it was felt in my chest, didn't seem so loud any more. I stopped trying to intellectualize what was happening and I just let their precision and grace wash over me; my favourite part of watching dance.
The last 10 (?) minutes of the show are a quick rewind of everything we'd seen so far. The dancers do the entire (mostly) show in reverse and on hyperspeed - and it's very cool.
One of the lead, and best, characters in this show is Lee Curran, the lighting designer. Curran created absolute beauty on stage and carried it through for the entire show. There wasn't one moment were the stage wasn't lit dramatically and effectively (except when the lights were off) and wasn't interesting to watch. It was stunning.
My personal experience also taught me to advise others to bring earplugs with them, especially if you're seated on either of the far sides of the orchestra. The music is LOUD. Intentionally so, but still.
This is modern dance not often seen in Toronto (Fortunately, Canadian Stage seems akin to that kind of thing) so get to it while you can!
POLITICAL MOTHER only graces us with her presence until October 28! See it at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E.). For tickets call: 416-368-3110 or click here.
Even if you're not partial to the O.T.T. acting style of farcical comedies, it's hard to remain serious during Canadian Stage's production of THE GAME OF LOVE AND CHANCE.
Just ask the woman who sat next to me.
Based on the acting style of Commedia dell'arte (an Italian performance style from a few hundred years ago), the actors now, like then, perform in a highly-physical, almost clown-like style that allows them to personify the stock-traits of their characters in a truthful, albeit, outrageous manner.
And even now, hundreds of years after these characters were initially created, we can still recognize in ourselves the ridiculous stereotypes they portray, which is why farces continue to be hilarious.
Mistaken identities and trickery run amuck as two wealthy and betrothed individuals attempt to determine if their future spouse is a person of worth, and thus deserving of their respective affections.
Cut to hilarity ensuing.
But in staying true to the Commedia style, the stars of the show are not, in fact, the gorgeous and wealthy upper class, but, instead, are the crass, inane servants who attend them.
In this case, Arlequino (Gil Garrett) and Lisette (Gemma James-Smith) perform their roles with such exaggerated gusto, it's impossible not to giggle. I mean this. The woman beside me who seemed to define 'stoic', finally caved and burst into guffaws at Lisette's sexual innuendos and Arlequino's insane entrance. From what I gleaned from my minimal but significant interactions with her, she seemed like a real tough nut to crack.
There were a few directorial elements I didn't understand (the scene changes for one and the need for the character of Mario to be always eating candy), and, occasionally there was a too-often repeated comic element that lost it's humour, but overall the charm of the four leads had me at their over-the-top 'hellos', and so my confusion was forgiven and forgotten.
Add into the mix a beautiful and stylized set, some spot-on, if=sometimes-too-much-choreography, and a lovely lighting design, and you've got yourself a fabulously frothy night out at the theatre.
In a world where the layman wants only sheer entertainment from it's theatre, THE GAME OF LOVE AND CHANCE is a good alternative to regurgitated song lyrics. It'll entertain you, make you laugh, and have you leaving the theatre feeling a bit lighter than when you entered.
Not bad for a play written in 1730 and doesn't include any lyrics from ABBA.
THE GAME OF LOVE AND CHANCE is on now until May 12 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.).
For tix click here or call: 416-368-3110.
Gasp! "Did you see that?!" "Oh! That was something!" "Well, I've never seen that before!"
This is what I heard from the people seated behind me during DARK MATTERS on Wednesday. The latest work by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite is on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre until March 3 (tomorrow!). While I am an avid fan of dance, I have to admit the second half of the performance left me colder than the first, but all of it was really very cool. The first half is a gorgeously dark and exciting piece about a puppet creation gone awry. Manipulated by five dancers, the approx. 3 ft wooden puppet comes to life in a way his creator couldn't handle and the relationship between the two, warts and all, was riveting. The music, the dance and the lighting, all seamlessly came together to show the highs and gruesome lows of a relationship between parent and child. The wooden puppet was so realistic I half expected it to come out during curtain call.
In short: it was awesome. Extremely creative, pushed the boundaries of how dance is defined and the story went places I couldn't have predicted. And it was funny.
The second half was also beautiful - let's get that straight. The dancers were unbelievable. The lighting was fantastic. But I couldn't figure out the story. Everytime I thought I had it, I didn't; and while I can gaze in awe at the strength and talent of dancers for quite a while without needing to be entertained by a linear story, I did feel frustrated at my lack of knowledge about the purpose of anything at all on stage. I wish I could provide more insight, but I can't.
I CAN tell you that it was also very cool. If you're a fan of dance or even if you like having your brain challenged by theatre, this could be the stuff for you.
LA FILLE MAL GARDEE, on now at the Four Season Centre, is worth it to see the boyancy of Naoya Ebe. His gravity-defying leaps and his precision in landing are jaw dropping (literally, my jaw dropped). In typical National Ballet fashion, the entire cast isn't far behind him. Every dancer on stage excels and their joie de danse (French grammer beware!) is obvious and infectious. Add into this graceful mix, brightly coloured costumes, a pretty set and loads of satin ribbon, and you've got yourselves two hours of happy feet.
And boy do I wish that were enough for me.
LA FILLE reminds me of a Rogers & Hammerstein musical; at the time of creation it was innovative but now...not so much.
The plot, created in 1789, centres around the blissful love between Lise (Jillian Vanstone in her debut in the role) and Colas (Naoya Ebe in his debut in the role) and the antics the two participate in to be together. Lise's mother, the Widow Simone, (played by Kevin D. Bowles - also a debut - typically played by a man to much comic buffonery) has, however, promised Lise's hand to Alain, the oddball son of the wealthy Thomas. Comedy ensues as the couple play simple tricks on the Widow Simone to be together, frolick where they can, while the town revels in their love and in the general merriment of living in the French countryside in springtime.
So like an R&H musical, LA FILLE is fun and toe-tapping... but that doesn't necessarily mean it should continue to be produced. Like some R&H shows, the content in LA FILLE is so antiquated it's now almost offensive. Forget the fact that the heroine Lise only wants to get married and have babies and doesn't do anything but avoid the chores her mother gives her, and forget the fact that her mother's mode of discipline is spanking and slaps in the face (this is actually done on stage), what is the hardest to take in LA FILLE is that the audience is supposed to laugh at the character of Alain. This character is strange; he doesn't subscribe to societal norms and he has bizarre social ticks. The townspeople are borderline nice to him, but also mock him and cast him off and we, as the audience, are supposed to find this funny and laugh at Alain along with everyone else. This is a central idea in LA FILLE and I couldn't accept it. I couldn't suspend my disbelief and laugh at a simpleton character who shows only emotions of love, who doesn't understand social graces and so doesn't comprehend why he's being mocked. It's just not funny, even if it's under the guise of comedy and no I will not loosen up about it.
Some things just don't translate anymore.
But the split-leaps of Naoya Ebe sure do.
DARK MATTERS is on until March 3 (tomorrow!) at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). For tix, visit
canadianstage.com or call: 416-368-3110
LA FILLE MAL GARDEE is on until March 4 (Sunday!) at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St. W.). For tix, visit www.national.ballet.ca or call: 416-345-9595
Julian Richings in I SEND YOU THIS CADMIUM RED. Photo by John Lauener.
I SEND YOU THIS CADMIUM RED is an ambitious, unique performance by Art of Time Ensemble in association with Canadian Stage.
Unfortunately it was so inaccessible I didn't care about any of it.
I consider myself a pretty ideal audience member. I sit in my seat and am a blank slate. I have no judgement (ok, very little judgement) and I want to love what I'm about to see so I can support the thesis of this blog. Soooooo, it takes me some time to admit my negative feelings about a performance...and in both pieces in this show, I was bored silly by the end and extremely frustrated that I was.
The initial piece is a 20 minute pas-de-deux with choreography by the fabulous James Kudelka - I looked at my watch after 10 minutes. The second piece is a dramatization of the correspondance between artist John Berger and filmmaker John Christie, feauturing the talents of Julian Richings and John Fitzgerald Jay - I looked at my watch after 15 minutes and every 5-7 minutes thereafter. The performers, including the small orchestra on stage, were amazing; really very talented. But ultimately I didn't understand why Andrew Burashko (Artistic Director of Art of Time Ensemble) thought it important enough to do these pieces now. He came out at the beginning of the performance to give a verbal description of the show and explain his passion for them, but I was still left wanting. I took away from his explaination that he was compelled to do these pieces because he personally felt very passionate about them, but I still felt like I was at the whim of his theatrical indulgences and that his production was more about pleasing his own artistic and aesthetic vision, than about providing an evening of engaging theatre for an audience. Being an Artistic Director of a company allows you, to a certain degree, to create art at your whim because you are the authority who deems it worthy, and no, you can't please everyone. But I really felt like he didn't care about his audience enjoying the show and so I felt totally omitted from his vision. Thank God for the colourful and pretty projections in the second performance. I could zen out and meditate while watching them (and I did.)
I respect Art of Time Ensemble's mandate and their ambition. I do. I think they're attempting to cross boundaries and create innovative theatre. I hope that they succeed but don't alienate a mainstream audience in the process. Theatre's a tough business to be in and if you alienate a portion of the already too-small community of theatre goers, there isn't much business left to be had.
I SEND YOU THIS CADMIUM RED is on stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St. ) from now until Oct. 22. For tix visit canadianstage.com
Lucky Ejim & cast in ANOTHER AFRICA. Photo by John Lauener
I'm a sucker for art with an African theme. I love it. I feel like theatre from Africa is on a different, higher plane than other theatre in the world. There is something intangible and truly special that happens in the communication between actor and audience in a performance with African artists. I can't explain it, but I always leave a show performed by Africans feeling like I've seen something special.
It was the same for the Canadian Stage remount of ANOTHER AFRICA, featuring two plays from the trilogy originally produced by Volcano Theatre during the 2010 Luminato Festival.
The first play , SHINE IN YOUR EYE, is set in Lagos, Nigera and is performed by an all-black cast. This performance had the richness and natural charisma that I love so much in African-based theatre. The actors were completely comfortable on stage, in a way that isn't seen often in Western theatre and I was immediately engaged.
The second play, PEGGY PICKIT SEES THE FACE OF GOD, is set in an unnamed Western city and is performed by an all-white cast. This play, while much funnier than the first and features abundantly talented actors, ultimately lost me in the storyline.
I love stories about the continent of Africa that talk about the often-not-talked-about facets of the country, and both of these plays did that. Each was vastly different from the other with a unique perspective, and each was thought provoking and illuminating.
This kind of theatre, the kind where the subject, actors and direction are outside the box of the standard fare we Torontonians see, is special. It's rare and it should be rewarded with packed houses and thunderous applause. I hope they get it.
ANOTHR AFRICA is on now until Oct. 22 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). For tix visit: canadianstage.com
Have you done this yet? Ever? Hop to it.
I know my blog posts are generally pretty positive when I talk about the theatre I've seen, so maybe that affects my credibility. But I'm actually pretty judgey when it comes to the quality of a theatre production (among other things like...basically everything else), so when I tell you that an evening at Canadian Stage's Dream in High Park is one of the most worthwhile things you can do this summer, you should believe me.
It's not the show that's the highlight. The show IS a great introduction to Shakespeare if you don't know him that well, but it's the entire package of The Dream in High Park evening that makes it a fabulous experience.
Summer nights in Toronto are precious and too few. And if you're like me, and try to jam as much as you can into a day/week/summer/year, let me tell you that making time for The Dream in your biz schedule is really one of the best ways to enjoy a gorgeous summer evening. The Dream isn't like other theatre, if you go 2 minutes before 8pm, rush to find a seat, watch the show and then rush to leave, you're missing the point.
Dream in High Park is best spent showing up at least an hour early with a backpack full of fruit and cheese and dips and breads, and spreading that feast across the blanket you brought and sharing half a bottle of wine (not sure if that's legal though. if it is, do it! If it's not...do it on the DL!) with a friend and relaxing in the summer evening as it turns to dusk.
The show itself is an important part of the formula; there are usually multiple stand-out performances and it's always interesting to see how each director uses the stage, but it's really not the best part.
The best part is in the getting there, and in the sharing of time and food with friends, and in the sunset behind the trees, and in the kids engrossed in their first Shakespeare play, and in the pay-what-you-can ticket price that still makes it an accessible theatre night for everyone.
Every time I go, there is at least one point mid-show, where I look around at my surroundings and smile. Everything seems peaceful and gorgeous and and juuuuuuust right.
To enhance your Dream experience, bring: a blanket, a pillow to sit on, bug spray
The Winter's Tale is on at Canadian Stage's Dream in High Park until Sept 4 (Tues-Sun every week) with doors opening at 6pm. Pay-What-You-Can with a suggested $20 donation.