By Melissa Farmer
So let’s get a few things straight. This will be a very personal and biased response to Spent. There will be no money puns, none at all, to be found in the next150 words. If I don’t know you, if you know nothing about “that Lehman guy”, if you hate everything all the time, I still think you should go and see this show. Here’s why:
Spent is relatable and smart. Set within the framework of a BBC news broadcast, we meet not only a pair of Bay street traders who have lost their jobs, but also the media who are reporting on the catalytic economic collapse. As the two downtrodden buffoons leap from a building in an effort to make it all go away, we are right there with them (and, we have been here before) pre-fall, mid-plummet, post-collapse. We giggle at a twitching Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers who has managed to keep his pockets full; we giddily abhor the greedy devils and their maniacal gluttonous Hell and we recognize that guy we’ve all seen on the news who just wants to know how he’s going to afford his next burger. In its swift seventy minutes, we meet a bunch of absurd characters (all skilfully played by Ravi Jain and Adam Paolozza) who offer different ways in to the bigger question: to a collective who can put a price on everything, how much is an individual worth? It’s inventive, energetic, clever, fun theatre.
My cheeks hurt from smiling for seventy minutes straight. From Jain’s entrance with a “Hire Me” sign and a shaky, hopeful smile, I was sold. As Bay street traders, these two out-of-luck sad sacks are just trying to make tomorrow better than today. As the sundry other characters they play, Ravi and Adam emerge as masters of their craft. Their rapid-fire precision is incredible. On this stage, they are having fun and they are working really really hard. They are sweaty and spitty and you will still want to shake their hand, pat them on the back and give them a spitty, sweaty hug. It’s such a gift to be able to watch someone do something that he’s really really good at doing. It’s something I want to do more often.
Go see Spent. It has a short run, so hurry. Theatre like this is a rare commodity.
SPENT is on now until at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). For tickets call:
416-866-8666 or click 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
Jessica Moss is the writer, co-creator and sole actor in MODERN LOVE, a tale of love and mis-connections in our complicated world of social media. She had the time in her schedule to answer some questions for me about the show and about gearing up for The Next Stage Festival. Read On!
Q:. Tell me about the play and your role in bringing it to the Next Stage Festival.
A: MODERN LOVE looks at web connectivity and relationships, both online and off. It looks at this through the eyes of Trish, a girl who has 660 Facebook friends but still feels lonely. With her, we travel through a Web Wonderland of sorts, through dating sites, chat rooms, Skype, Twitter, text messaging, and other online encounters, while she tries to connect with people, both IRL and on URLs.
It’s about things that everyone can relate to: loneliness, identity, and Facebook. But these very commonplace things are talked about theatrically, in a highly physical, stylized way. The piece couldn’t be told through any medium other than theatre.
I wrote it, and I’m in it.
Q: Where/How did the idea for the show originate?
A: With my precarious relationship to Facebook and my dazzling array of anxiety problems. I wanted to talk about how I knew so much about my friend’s lives, but I felt like we were getting farther and farther apart. About how anyone can get a hold of me instantaneously now, but I still feel out of touch. About the idea of a ‘friend’ being someone you collect on a website and don’t relate to in real life. I knew that I wanted to do this as a one person show, where I could simultaneously create a zany, over populated world, and a world of isolation, and/or one body on their own.
Eric Double and Julia Nish Lapidus of Theatre Caravel, who I knew from performing at their company’s events and just from around the theatre community, were applying for a young artists’ residency with Canadian Stage and they needed a project to apply with. We came together and then brought on Kyle Purcell, who is a multimedia genius and takes care of the considerable tech element in the show. We were very fortunate to have a performance slot at the Festival of Ideas and Creation in May, and from there, we applied to Next Stage and have expanded the piece to what it is today.
It’s been about a year since we began and it’s kind of amazing where we’ve been able to go.
Q: Love and relationships certainly have changed since the Social Media explosion. Do you think it's for better or for worse?
A: I think there are positives and negatives. There are beautiful things about distance no longer being a problem, being able to be in people’s lives when you can’t physically be with them, being able to connect so quickly for help or support. But there are things that are falling away, like time spent face-to-face, being able to keep secrets, holding someone’s hand.
Either way, the conclusion I came to working on the play is that social media, in various, constantly changing forms, is here to stay. We have to find ways to love each other and show that love meaningfully with and through technology. Because loving people, and missing people, and wanting to connect, those things are here to stay too.
Q: How many facebook friends do you have? How many of them are actually your friends?
A: I have between 690 and 692 friends on Facebook…I think people keep deleting me or deactivating their account, because it fluctuates a lot. When people delete me, I go through a fairly serious depression about it. I have a policy that I have to actually know the person in real life to add them to Facebook. So I do know everyone. But ‘friend’….well, that word is changing now. I don’t tell Facebook everything. At all.
Q: How's the experience been with the Next Stage Festival? For NSTF newbies, what can you recommend?
A: I’m so incredibly grateful to the Next Stage Festival. It’s a wonderful opportunity for someone like me, and for all of us involved in MODERN LOVE. We’re artists who are fighting out there, trying to put on our own work, and it’s very difficult. The boon of a company like Toronto Fringe helping us out is huge. It really helps. It helps in that it is an opportunity to put on a show, to gain exposure, to practice our work and hopefully get better at it as we move forward. And it also helps in that it is a vote of confidence: artists experience a lot of rejection, so every now and then you need someone to believe in you, to trust you enough to let you try. The members of the Fringe team are the most incredible, talented people, and they care so much about theatre in Toronto.
I recommend that NSTF newbies go with an open mind and see as much as possible!
And warm up in the beer tent.
Q: Other than your show, are there any other "must sees" at the NSTF?
A: Honestly, the festival itself is something to experience, and half of the fun is discovering shows, lucking out and finding a surprise that you love. I’m excited for everything, and I can’t pick one show over another. Just go. See a play. See ten plays, if you can.
But please come to MODERN LOVE. And text me if you like it.
The Next Stage Festival runs from Jan 4-15 at the Factory Theatre (Mainspace & Studio Theatre). MODERN LOVE opens Thurs, Jan. 5 @6:30pm. For tickets click here or call 416-966-1062.
Daniel Nyman, intellect, lawyer and sometimes actor and theatre director, tells us the A,B,C's of Daniel MacIvor and his new work, HIS GREATNESS.
MacIvor is one of the country’s most prominent theatre creators.
A writer and performer, MacIvor is known for his one man shows, in particular his collaborations with director Daniel Brooks, and his plays are often a collection of non-linear scenes, characters and moments intricately woven around a broad framework of themes and ideas.
He takes an inverse approach with this show, however, this time sharing the stage with two additional cast members and intricately weaving his themes and ideas around a straightforward — yet compelling — narrative. HIS GREATNESS tells the “potentially true story” of a 1981 encounter between Tennessee Williams (Richard Donat), his assistant (MacIvor) and a local hustler (Greg Gale) in a Vancouver hotel room.
After seeing the show I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the story is historically true and how much of it falls into the column of historical fiction. It’s true Williams spent some time during the early 1980’s in Vancouver and he is known to have had a penchant for rentboys and illicit substances; however, it’s unclear as to the accuracy of the rest of the story. But that’s not the point. In aptly true Williams style, HIS GREATNESS is an examination of aging, love, loneliness and loss. And in true MacIvor fashion, the play is an exploration of the ego, identity and theatricality itself.
A lot more could probably be said about this play and its spot in the catalogue of one of Canada’s most eminent theatre auteurs, Daniel MacIvor. But I’ll skip the academic analysis and simply say that this show is entertaining, sharp witted, thought-provoking and, frankly, moving.
HIS GREATNESS is on now until October 23 at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St).
Limited number of PWYC tickets available for Sunday matinee. For tickets and more information call 416.504.9971 or visit www.factorytheatre.ca
Director: Ed Roy; Written by: Daniel MacIvor; Cast: Richard Donat, Daniel MacIvor & Greg Gale
Surprise! Toronto has TWO Theatre Festivals each summer!
Just when you thought you were in-the-know with Fringe, you have another theatre festival to attend.
WTF? Why are there two? What's the difference?
They're similar; but the main difference, for an audience (I think), is that the Fringe festival line-up of 140+ shows is chosen by a lottery procedure - they literally pick shows out of a hat.
SummerWorks has a jury of chosen theatre practitioners who read through each submission and choose (this year) 35 works to be mounted. SummerWorks is on a much smaller scale than Fringe, and so less people have heard of it, but, generally, the calibre of theatre is better. Although everyone knows that you can see some damn good theatre at the Fringe, and both theatre festivals have their pros and cons.
SummerWorks is on for 10 days each year at the beginning of August. This year it's on from August
4-14 and there are some seriously good shows in the line-up.
Not sure what to see or how to do it?
Visit their website: www.summerworks.ca
You can check out the line-up of shows as well as schedules, find out what's happening with the festival's music series and their Art Bar. Buy a pass so you can save $$! Get one for 3 plays, 7 plays or 10 plays. Click here to get 'em and get more info. The passes are really so handy.
Still in the dark about what to see because all of the shows sound intriguing?
Some sure-fire succeses will be:
THIRD FLOOR at the Lower Ossington Theatre
FREDA & JEM'S BEST OF THE WEEK at the Factory Theatre Studio
LITTLE ONE at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME at the Theatre Centre
If dance is more your bag, check out the fun show by Company Blonde, MALARIA LULLABY at Theatre Passe Muraille.
Like, Fringe, it's best to get a program or use the SummerWorks website and download it. Find a few shows you want to see and catch them at the beginning of their runs - tickets are always harder to come by at the end of the runs because EVERYONE goes at the end and it's not ideal to wait in line for an hour in the blazing sun to get rush seats.
SummerWorks is dynamite! So much great theatre at cheap prices; what more could you ask for?
I had a light schedule yesterday; only 3 shows in one day (amidst, work, drinks, and a dinner party, but other events don't seem to count when you're discussing your tally of Fringe shows seen amongst a crowd.)
First up: FINALLY: AN EPIC CYCLE
Mixed in with monologues from a bike courier, this play focuses on an insecure late-20-something reluctance to face her own strengths and shortcomings. We've all been there - trying to hold on to the security blanket we all crave but actually know that it's the worst thing for us - while simultaneously screwing everything else up because we're so focussed on keeping JUST that thing and nothing else. It's a universal situation so it's easy to empathize with the main character. I like that.
Where we haven't all been, and what I found to be the most interesting thing about the show, is life from a bike courier's perspective.
I used to be a receptionist at a high-rise in the city and I dealt with couriers on a regular basis. They were mostly socially-inept creepsters who yelled at me for circumstances beyond my control, hit on me, or just overstayed their visit by chatting up a storm for AGES.
But there were a few bike courier regulars who I got to know, and like, and who made me rethink my uber-judgement against the whole species. But even with these decent couriers, I always wondered why the ef anyone would want to be a bike courier. The pay is lousy, there is a constant war between motorists and cyclists, they're inhaling exhaust fumes all day and the trekking around must be exhausting, not to MENTION doing all of it in February at minus 20 degrees. Really; WTF.
Moon, played by Cassie Muise, is a cynical Toronto bike courier who gives the audience a window into what that life would be like. She's philosophical, introspective and endearing in a cool-chick-with-a-chip-on-her-shoulder kinda way. She's got the most interesting things to say and when both her and fellow bike courier Jaques, (played by a spot-on Derek Perks), are on stage, I wanted the play to be about them, and what they go through, and WHY the ef they actually ARE bike couriers. Shout-out to writer (and actor) Sarah Cody for peaking my bike courier interest. Can you write a show about them next? I think you're onto something.
For showtimes, click here; Facebook, Twitter (Handle: finallyfringe)
Next up: RATON LAVEUR
I knew almost nothing going into this show; a raccoon is be involved, it's a dark comedy, and the poster had a really nice, clean layout that appealed to me. Pretty good start. (I'm a sucker for a great poster design).
The show started and it was almost instantly hilarious. I was engaged and laughing and couldn't help but adore the two actors, David Patrick Flemming and Caitlin Stewart. Their timing is amazing.
Then, just as I'm riding along in my adoration and humour, BLAMMO!; major plot twist that I did not seeing coming from anywhere. ANYWHERE. Suddenly I was riveted, adored the actors (and co-writers, along with Director Amos Crawley) even more, and was truly excited to see how the story would play out.
I don't know how to summarize the plot without spoiling the twist and subsequent climax, so I'm not going to try, but PLEASE do yourself a favour and go and see this show. Don't ask too many questions before - just watch and enjoy the ride. You won't be disappointed.
For showtimes, click here; Facebook.
Finally: VIRGINIA ALDRIDGE, BSc
One woman/man shows are risky. If you, as an audience member, don't connect with the actor on stage, you're doomed for that agonizing disengaged boredom for the duration of the show. Elise Newman, writer/director of VIRGINIA ALDRIDGE BSc, did an excellent job writing the script, but outdid herself in the casting of Janelle Hanna as the title character. As soon as she opened her mouth, I fell in love with Virginia. Everything was endearing: her oddball attitudes, her love of insects and her insanely comic fantasies about what she'd rather her life be like.
Virginia goes to Cameroon, Africa to follow in the footsteps of her explorer hero, Mary Kingsley...and to impress a boy. As you do. The play is a mixture of Mary's fears, fantasies and the actual hilarious happenings in her hotel room in Douala, Cameroon. (If you've been to Africa solo, and not part of a tour group, the sequence with the cold shower and the lack of drainage will resonate BIG TIME). The show was excellent storytelling, with a character arc and plot closure not usually done so gracefully in a 50 minute run time. Theatre is about connection and character empathy, and I rooted for Virginia from the get-go. I wanted to be her friend, take her under my wing, and have her talk to me about her neurotic but charming theories. I could learn a lot about challenging myself from Virginia Aldridge. You probably could too; so go and see her! In her words, she's "awesome"!
For showtimes, click here. Facebook, Twitter handle (quoiquoiquoi).