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.
A 9-year-old with leukemia doesn't exactly provoke images of singing or laughter, but if you stop in at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, you'll see just that. DANI GIRL; a new musical about Dani, a nine-year-old girl with cancer, is playing now until March 4.
Armed with her teddy bear, her imagination and her courage to persevere, Dani attempts to discover the reasons cancer exists while also insipring bravery and hope in those around her.
Forget washing a man out of our hair or listening to the songs of our favourite singers be recycled with a show tunes flair, this is where all musical theatre should be headed: dealing with difficult, real life issues that push the boundaries of comfort and are deftly explored in the way that only music can do. This is the future (and relevant survival technique) of musical theatre.
I wholeheartedly applaud the writers of DANI GIRL, Michael Kooman (music) and Christopher Dimond (book & lyrics); getting anyone to give this show a chance, could not have been easy.
I encourage you to experience the show. For sure. It is inspiring to see what the medium of music theatre can do and this show will someday be a huge smash hit; however I should also tell you that it doesn't seem like a finished product. Not just yet.
While the cast and crew did a remarkable job with the space, the confines of the TPM Backspace made the show feel cramped, and look unfinished. Sometimes I felt like I was at a backer's audition or I was seeing a show still in workshop stage (which it might be, but the show wasn't presented as such). There are elements that need cutting - Jeff Madden's character of Rafe is nonsensical and irrelevant at times, making the plot unnecessarily confusing, but kudos to him for his commitment to the bizarre role. Amanda LeBlanc as Dani's mother is so 2-Dimensional (she's religious and LOVES to pray) that it's almost comical, and Johnathan Logan who plays Dani's friend Marty, needs to spend more time around children to actually know what they behave like. It seemed like the only well-rounded, complete personality was of Dani herself and while Gabi Epstein charmed the audience, the show can't rest entirely on her shoulders.
But there are really gorgeous and touching moments in the show: Dani singing about her determination to get her hair back after chemo, and again about her choice to sacrifice something she loves for the greater good of cancer patients; and LeBlanc's song about the pain of watching her child suffer is basically a showstopper. In comparison to these really remarkable moments, it seems odd when other moments in the show are so amateur.
Because of this, I'm convinced the show is still in workshop stage, however I am also convinced that when the show has completed all of its finishing touches, it'll be exactly what the musical theatre industry needs.
DANI GIRL is on now at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (27 Ryerson St.) until March 4.
For tickets, click here or call 416-504-7529
Photo by Susan Benoit. Gabi Epstein & Jonathan Logan in DANI GIRL.
DANI GIRL, a musical about a young girl battling a potentially fatal disease, opens today at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Although not a show for children, the production does remind us "adults", that the hope and optimism of a child is often the best medicine, and that child-like determination to persevere is nothing to be scoffed at.
Director of DANI GIRL, and theatre critic to The Star, Richard Ouzounian sheds some light on why he chose this show and why he continues to choose theatre, full-stop.
1. Why this play? I'm assuming you have a busy schedule of events and writing, so what was it about this particular piece that caught your attention?
I was brought down to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh over 5 years ago to work with the two young authors of this piece when they were still in school. I loved the work and their talent and have been anxious ever since to bring it to a wider audience. We did it in Barrie last year and Arkady Spivak of Talk Is Free Theatre and Svetlana Dvoretskaia of Show One Productions decided to bring it to Toronto, which was great.
2. How do you think your role as a Toronto theatre critic affects your directorial work, for better and for worse?
I worked as a full-time director for 20 years before switching to primarily media work in 1991. I chose to make it a secondary profession ever since and I don't regret it. I loved directing and still do, but when you have to do it for a living, you can't pick and choose your projects and you wind up doing things you don't like to pay the rent.
I think continuing to work in the business makes me both sharper and more sympathetic. I can spot bad work more easily and I appreciate good work with more enthusiasm.
3. As an add-on to Question 2: Since you do have quite a robust and diverse full-time job, what motivates you to continue to participate in theatre beyond the role of audience member and professional critic?
I love theatre, period. I don't just go to it because I have to. When I'm on vacation, I always check to see what's playing in any country around the world. And if you love something, you want to enjoy it in a variety of ways.
4. Given your outspoken criticism of Matthew Jocelyn and CanadianStage, how would you feel if he came to review your show?
Well that wouldn't make any sense, would it? He's not a critic and never has been. I ran many of the major theatres in this country and directed hundreds of shows before becoming a critic. I'm qualified to do both. Your question also raises the idea of reviewing as "payback". Anyone who uses reviews to take revenge on someone or something is in the wrong profession.
5. Given the breadth of Canadian theatre you see, what you do feel is missing in the national theatre landscape? By the same token, what do you feel Canadian theatre does really well?
I think this country is filled with tremendous actors and designers. We have lots of good playwrights as well. I know it sounds self-serving, but I think we are short of good directors. And if you talk to the people who run our theatres always looking for good people to hire, or to the actors who have to deal with a lot of the people who call themselves directors, you'd find that they agree.
6. Any more directorial work in the near future? Any projects you're excited about, and at liberty to discuss?
I return to Barrie in just a month to do a new adaptation (for four people!) of Great Expectations, that I've prepared. Next year I also hope to be directing a show with the graduating class at Sheridan, but I can't reveal it yet. And I'm also talking to the people at Hart House where I had an awesome time directing their record-breaking production of JERRY SPRINGER, THE OPERA a few years ago about returning to shake things up again.
It's never dull!
DANI GIRL is on now until March 4 at the Theatre Passe Muraille's Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave).
For tickets click here or call 416-504-7529.
Ladies, James Gangl is looking for a girlfriend (sorry gents, this guy likes the V), and it's this search that is the crux of his remounted Fringe hit, SEX, RELIGION & OTHER HANG-UPS.
The show is hilarious. Really funny. Once you get through Gangl's slighly awkward intro and get into the actual play, he lights up the stage and you really root for him.
Interesting side note: I found the show funny... but my boyfriend, raised Irish Catholic , found the show hysterical. I'm a Prodestant who doesn't know (or care) about the patron Saint of anything, but my BF does. My BF also knows what it's like to feel Catholic guilt for sexual encounters, to be a horny 20 year-old dude who can't get laid (sorry BF!), and to make awkward attempts at girl-love only to have them fail epicly.
This is a show for everyone (above the age of 18), but really for boys raised Catholic, or in any relgion where God is to be feared (ie. every religion available).
However, since the show seems to be one giant vessel to promote Gangl's professional AND personal life (he repeatedly asks the audience to recommend the show to their single friends), would I recommend him to date one of my single friends?
Gangl is funny. Very funny, which is definitely attractive. He's quick to think on his feet, not afraid to laugh at himself, makes intelligent jokes (fart jokes can only go so far with most chicks. Or at least with this chick.). He's cute, clearly driven since he wrote and stars in the play himself, and seems to have a great relationship with his Mom (He "loves the hell out of her").
Drawback: In revealing himself so completely on stage (emotionally, not phyiscally), he doesn't leave a lot of the mystery that is so compelling at the beginning of a relationship. He almost makes himself too vulnerable too soon for a relationship, and thus invokes a power imbalance already, putting himself at the bottom.
Ex. If I wanted to date him, I already know about his emotional baggage, his sexual history, and how he learned to love himself; all positive things to know about a boyfriend, but just maybe not before he's your actual boyfriend.
But maybe it's a schtick. Maybe the facts are exaggerated for comedic effect, maybe he didn't spend as much time masterbating into hot towels as he claims and maybe his coming into his own (pun INtended) makes him the best, most giving, most wildest lover ever.
I guess you won't really find out 'til you date him. And you won't find out if you want to date him until you see the show. So, go and judge for yourself. Even if he isn't your Prince Charming, he's talented and really damn funny, and that seems like better odds than most first dates.
SEX, RELIGION & OTHER HANG-UPS is playing now until October 22 at the Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave. ) mainspace. $25 Gen. Admission. Single Ladies: $15 (quote 'Single Ladies' when you book over the phone)
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?