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!
Dancing with Rage - Mary Walsh
I have no idea how old Mary Walsh is and I don't care. For once I'd like a woman's talent to be gauged not in a "for her age" category.
Mary Walsh is funny for a mid-50 year old and for someone in their mid-teens. She's quick, she's got range and she pretty much loathes Stephen Harper (but in a funny way).
Walsh improvs when cues are flubbed (both lighting and sound...multiple times) and the audience is in stiches, she kills with political zingers featuring Harper, Rob Ford and John Baird, and she's got the whole place busting a gut when she laments aging and womanhood in two clever, ovaries-to-the-wall monologues. In short: she's got moxie.
But her show is a bit of a hot mess. Walsh and Co-Director Andy Jones need to continue the finessing process so it's less...hodge podge-y and more streamlined. One moment Walsh is engaging, expressing genuine emotion through humor, the next moment she's playing for quick guffaws that are so slapsticky they belong on Saturday morning cartoons, and the moment after that we're watching a video of her playing yet another character leading a seudo-musical number on the winter streets of St. John's, Newfoundland.
But Walsh IS funny. I slapped my knee a few times during the show (my personal barometer for humour); she's instantly charming, but has enough gusto to give a quick tongue lashing if you give her the wrong lighting cue. It's a fab combo and one that I wish she'd showcased more of instead of playing for the schticky result.
DANCING WITH RAGE is playing now until March 24 at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.). For tickets call: 416-872-1212 or click here.
Photo by Daniel DiMarco
The star of Hart House's current production of BENT is Dominic Manca's set-design. Elegantly crafted to look like the inside of a Nazi concentration camp, it easily morphs into a train, an exterior street and, with a few props, an apartment. But the real star quality of it is the atmospheric foreboding it creates which overshadows every scene of the play. The image of an imposing high fence partnered with rows of barbed wire is forever linked with the holocaust, and so it served to heighten the stakes of each scene as the audience knows what's to come even when the characters don't.
So it's puzzling then, as even with this larger-than-life setting, many of the highly dramatic moments of the show were lost.
How these moments were lost is still befuddling me. It doesn't make sense.
The acting is good - I genuinely enjoyed it - honest! Liam Volke who plays the main character, Max, does a fab job of carrying the show and the non-touching sex scene between him and another concentration camp "fluff" is sexy, exciting and endearing - a real stand-out.
The set (as I said) is great, the story is fascinating with subject matter rarely touched upon (to my knowledge) and the direction seems thoughtful...so why did almost every pivotal moment in the play fall flat? There are several tense and hugely dramatic moments where the audience has to bear witness to atrocities, that everyone knows actually happened, and that are still too horrible to imagine, let alone watch, even in a dramatization. But each time these moments arose I never felt the level of emotion I wanted to and should have. So I felt... let down. I was unmoved and thus disappointed that I couldn't pay proper homage to victims of Nazi persecution. I wanted to be sucked in and to feel their fear, desperation and anguish. I wanted to not be able to leave my seat immediately after the lights came up because I was so emotionally exhausted. And I wanted to understand a piece of our shameful history that can only be properly explained by a showcase of emotions and the gut-wrenching empathy that results.
That's why we go to the theatre, isn't it? To feel? (sorry Brecht) The beauty of theatre is its unique ability to share a story and ultimately remind us what it's like to feel alive. And I think that's where BENT fell short: I appreciated the play and all the good it carries with it, but I just didn't feel for it.
BENT is on at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until May 9. For tickets call: 416-978-8849 or click here.
Bahia Watson & Liza Paul. Photo by Siddiqui
After watching POMME IS FRENCH FOR APPLE at the Fringe this past summer, I immediately fell in like with it's creators Bahia Watson and Liza Paul. Anyone who could create such a fun, creative, ovaries-to-the-wall piece of theatre is aces in my book. The fact that they're intelligent and brave was just a coincedental bonus. Check out their pums for yourself as they answer some questions for me below.
1. This isn't your average run-of-the-mill show; can you explain where the idea came from and how it morphed into the current performance?
B: We met at an artistic residency with d’bi.young. Liza was working on a show about pums, womanhood and sexuality. I was working on a show that explored the black girl experience in contrast to limiting media stereotypes. We both used humour in our storytelling and decided to collaborate. Some combination of writing, determination, rum punch and slackness brought us to where we are today.
L: Wait - what? Talking pums are not commonplace onstage...? That's weird.
2. How much were you influenced by "The Vagina Monologues"? (you must have been!) And are you tired of the comparison between the shows?
L: Honestly? i've never seen it. POMME does get compared to "The Vagina Monologues" a lot, but i can't really qualify the comparison. I will say that it's been helpful in terms of audience members being able to give other prospective patrons a frame of reference, like “it's like 'The Vagina Monologues' but funnier” or “the caribbean Vagina Monologues”. Since both shows are about pums i don't imagine that the comparison will stop any time soon. But i don't mind at all.Tthat show gets produced all over so at the very least we're in good company.
B: Yeah, everyone always asks us that! I think 'the vagina monologues' of our friends and family influenced us more that anything. but, tired of it? nah. There is plenty of room to discuss what goes on between our legs, so it’s about time we start taking that space. we live by the motto: pum pum powah. It’s a celebration ting.
3. I think your costumes and their "versatility" is one of the best parts of the show - so simple yet effective; was it an instant stroke of genius or a lengthy brainstorm process (followed by the stroke of genius)?
B: Well, we had the pum characters and we wanted to make it clear that we were the actual pums talking, not people. I had the idea that pink scarves over our heads would actually make us look like a talking clit. and it did. and that made us laugh, so we performed it that way. Then, we had Weyni Mengesha offer her feedback before one of our runs and she suggested we sew the ends, making the scarves into circles to get more mileage out of them, so we went with that. But really, the pum itself is the most genius, so we’re just humbly brainstorming ways of capturing that.
L: True dat. It was the evolution of a stroke of genius.
4. Given the show's subject matter, what do you want an audience to "get" out of POMME; does it differ for males and females?
B: I want people to enjoy themselves, to laugh and to not feel alone in the absurd, complex and sweet experiences around having a pum. For men, I hope it gives them insight into our world, what we’re dealing with so that, in the end, we can better understand each other and they can feel more confident in asking me and my friends out on dates. Because right now, they’re not doing that.
L: Yeah. confident, simple, skilled approaches are at an all-time low in our fair city. But it doesn’t have to be this way! What happened to flirting? What happened to compliments...? POMME can show people the light. and whether you have a pum, love pum, or come from a pum, there is stuff for people to relate to - everybody can get into it. I want people to catch belly laughs; to hear us tell the stories so many of us can relate to but nobody’s telling; to learn some things about the madness that is sex and dating and womanhood without feeling like they got beat over the head with the concepts we’re dealing with; to have the most fun.
Jokes, guy. Jokes. Laughter is a powerful aphrodisiac. There are tons of beautiful, intelligent women in our audiences. We get them all warmed up and then turn them loose on the world. Sure, the ladies will be more sensitive to a subpar approach post-show, but if the guys who come to the show are paying attention, when the curtain comes up they can put their newfound knowledge to the test, talk a good game and maybe even get a number. I don’t think there’s any other show in town with fringe benefits like that.
5. In an ideal world, what woud the next evolution of POMME be?
B: more shows!
B: a soundtrack!
L: a tv show.
B: a world tour!
L: a travelling circus.
B & L: awwwwyeeeah.
6. Where can we tell your adoring fans to find you next? What's up next for you talented ladies?
L: You can find us next at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts where we'll be performing a limited run February 28, March 1, 8 and 9 - all shows at 8 pm and uncle bunny's famous rum punch will be in full effect. Be ready. Get into it. Up next for us: surviving the run. after that - who knows? But you can always check in with us at pommeisfrenchforapple.com or check out our youtube channel, youtube.com/pommetv to find out.
B: And chat with us on twitter too! @comeseepomme
This show is funny and fab - both with capital 'F's. Go. Only 3 shows left!
POMME IS FRENCH FOR APPLE is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) with only 3 shows left! Get tix ASAP: 416-866-8666 or click here.
By Amos Crawley
Ah, Valentine’s Day: the perfect occasion for my wife and I to take in SoulPepper’s production of Tom Stoppard’s seminal ROZENCRANTZ & GILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. That isn’t meant to be read as glib; while the love portrayed is platonic in nature, it’s very much a play about companionship. Really for most human beings the fear of our grand insignificance can only be quelled by the sharing of our lives with another human being. Our title characters exist on the edge of the abyss with only one another—which ultimately ain’t so bad.
It’s actually a wonder that Stoppard’s play has remained as popular as it has; it is an incredibly dense and challenging piece that combines strains of semiotics, philosophy and literary criticism with a formidable runtime. It helps immensely of course that One: it is very funny and Two: that the author has such an obvious affection for his two leads. Add that Stoppard is so obviously gleeful in the myriad ways he stretches his intellectual capacity that whether one follows all the strands or not, there is an infectious sense of joy.
The payoff belongs not to the characters or the author in the end, but to the audience. Stoppard makes his aim clear when he has the Player (the truly brilliant Kenneth Welsh) state: “It’s all right. As long as someone’s watching.” That’s a form of companionship as true as any other I’ve ever heard of.
R&G has two very clear antecedents in the history of theatre. Most obviously HAMLET, the play from which the two seemingly insignificant characters are plucked (and which seems to be playing offstage at all times, occasionally interrupting proceedings.) And only slightly less obviously, Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece WAITING FOR GODOT I don’t think there is anything hyperbolic in the statement that without Godot there would be no Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
Alas, it’s here that the production runs into some issues. While highlighting the similarities between the 2 plays, so much so that Director Joseph Ziegler and Set Designer Dana Osborne have Ted Dykstra (R) and Jordan Pettle (G) sitting on tree stumps: a seeming homage to the tree at the centre of Godot’s staging, the production ceases to notice the differences between the 2 scripts. R&G are not Estragon and Vladimir, and our two actors occasionally lean on the traditional characterisations of those roles rather than of their own. Also, while Beckett famously used only the starkest of language, limiting himself by writing in French, not his mother tongue, Stoppard is known and loved for his exuberant use of language. At their respective hearts, Godot is an exploration of the human condition, R&G an exploration of the human condition as specifically seen through the eyes of the arts. To use fashionable terminology, R&G is somewhat more Meta. Beckett’s clowns play their games to stave off the darkness, Stoppard’s do as well, but they also play games because, well, they’re clowns.
That said, when the productions ceases to take it self too seriously (“We’re overawed: that’s our problem” says the Player), it works a treat. When Dykstra and Pettle get on an equal footing and sport about with each other the play clips along and takes the audience with it. Special mention must go to the game of Questions played in Act II and to Gregory Prest’s performance of Hamlet in which he manages to poke fun at every overwrought performance of that role in history without ever tipping his hand that it is supposed to be as amusing as it is.
While it’s by no means a perfect production, the play is a welcome addition to any theatre season and there’s much here that is joyful, clever and thought provoking. Happy Valentine’s Day.
ROSENCRANTZ & GILDENSTERN ARE DEAD is on now at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). For tickets call: 416-866-8666 or click here.
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.
Disapointed to miss RARE at the Fringe last summer, and also its remount at the Best of the Fringe, I was more than looking forward to taking in a performance during its current eleven show run at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts.
RARE is one of the bravest, most meaningful pieces of theatre out there. Nine adults share the stage and tell their stories of love and loss, and life with Down syndrome. Most of the show is an introduction to the characters; we learn snippits about their families, their cultural backgrounds, their likes, dislikes, and their tragedies. We learn details of tragedies that have befallen many of them, intimate details that take your breath away and make you wonder at their strength of character, and how they still seem to be filled with so much hope.
The latter part of the show, and the part that I wish was more in-depth, was centered around the discussion of Down syndrome itself. The performers tell us what its like to grow up, and now to be an adult, with Down syndrome. They tell us the judgements they endured (and still endure), the unsubstantiated ridicule, and the shame that goes along with it. The fears they have of being alone, but also of their fierce determination to be indepdendent. Their desire for love of all kinds, and also their desperate plea to pregnant women to keep their unborn baby even if it tests positive for Downs. And it's all so heartfelt and sincere, I can't help wondering how they find the energy for the raw emotion of each performance.
One of the most important aspects of theatre, and one of the reasons why I love it, is when a show initates self-reflection. When I am suddenly participating in an introspective exercise of self-awareness that probably wouldn't happen otherwise, but is essential, for me, in maintaining my humanity.
RARE did this in the best way. I was not only moved and inspired by the show, but I also left questioning my own judgements and beliefs and motives and behaviour, and the fact that I wasn't comfortable with all of the answers, made the play's impact all the greater.
RARE is on until February 8 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). For tickets call: 416-866-8666 or click here.
1. Robin Hood was originally produced for Shakespeare By The Sea, an outdoor company, as a collective. Can you walk us through how that process works?
It starts with the idea for the show, and we try to choose legends or classic tales that the audiences will be at least a little familiar with, in this case, the Robin Hood legend. I start with a very rough outline of the most famous elements of the story, for example, Robin of Locksley returns from the Crusades to find Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham oppressing the poor people of England, forcing Robin to take refuge in Sherwood forest where he becomes an outlaw and meets up with a band of Merry Men. There's Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian. Then we craft original scenes using these character archetypes as our guide, often trying to smash the conventions of the story along the way, to make it interesting for the audience, give them something they didn't expect. We usually try to do this in a humorous way, which starts out in the writing room, just trying to make each other laugh at the situations we come up with for the characters.
I usually hand a rough list of potential song ideas or titles to the composer and he goes away to starting writing music and lyrics that will help tell our story through song. In truth, we are developing a bit of a formula for these things, which makes the work more efficient, especially when you have limited time to write and rehearse. We end up writing two or three drafts of the script before it goes to an audience 4 weeks after the actors arrive to the process! It's a whirlwind adventure, but it is so rewarding to work in a pressure cooker environment and then get to test out your material on a live audience while it's still very fresh. Through the course of the run we may make small changes, like if a particular joke isn't landing, or if something structurally in the plot isn't quite clear enough, but on the whole we have had a lot of success creating new work in a rapid fashion.
2. And what challenges or benefits come with staging it in a more traditional venue like Hart House?
There are mostly benefits to bringing a work like Robin Hood to Hart House Theatre. For one thing we've got a 7 piece live orchestra! The quality of the design team is really top-notch, and that shows in the set, lighting and costumes. Bringing it to Hart House has really given us the chance to elevate the production elements of the musical to a new level.
There's something magical about seeing the production in a park, with the trees around you standing in for Sherwood Forest, but when we think about a possible future for Robin Hood, it has to be a show that can hold it's own on a big indoor stage. Hart House has been the perfect first step for us towards realizing our goal of sharing this new musical with as many people as possible!
3. Robin Hood famously robs from the rich to give to the poor, is there any sense that when a show like this goes up against say a bigger downtown musical like THE WIZARD OF OZ, is there a feeling that you yourselves are a band of Merry Men (and Women)?
You do feel a little like an outlaw band when you go up against the big cats in town, and I think it brings the company together in a really great way. We've all been working so hard on the show, and there's a real sense that we've got something special to share. This is an exciting new Canadian musical. There's a very high rate of laughs per minute. Dashing sword fights and action-packed choreography. I think people are going to be genuinely suprised when they see the calibre of the performers in the show. Did I mention the 7 piece live orchestra? What I think we are able to offer is an incredibly entertaining night at the theatre, at an extremely affordable ticket price, when you compare it to, say, a bigger downtown musical.
4. Can we expect more collaborations like Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical in the future?
YES! We've got a few scripts in our bag of tricks awaiting further development, and we will be creating something new for the 20th season of Shakespeare By The Sea this summer in Halifax. There's also talk of a sequel to Robin Hood, but for now we're just trying to get this one as close to Broadway as we can!
ROBIN HOOD: THE LEGENDARY MUSICAL is on at Hart House (7 Hart House Circle) until January 26. For tix call: 416-978-8849 or click here.
One of the best things about Mirvish's production of THE WIZARD OF OZ are the kids in the audience. Not only are they having the most fun in the joint (aside from maybe the Scarecrow), but very quickly I was reminded how jaded and elitest I"ve become.
Just as I rolled my eyes at the too-bright, Starlight Express rainbow that dominates the stage in Oz, I heard a girl behind me gasp "Mommy! It's so pretty!", and then when Glinda the Good Witch desceded from the sky immediately after, she was equally as thrilled, (cue gasp #2), "Mommy! She's got the biggest dress ever!"
And she was right.
The rainbow WAS pretty and Glinda DID have, basically, the biggest dress ever. When I looked at the stage again, after hearing the girl's heartfelt and judgement-free appreciation, everything on it seemed a bit brighter.
Things that were bright on either side of the rainbow, regardless of how jaded you've become, were the uniformly sharp ensemble who were crisp and precise and made every dance number killer. Jamie McKnight who plays the Scarecrow made me smile at his silliness despite my adult elitistness and Cedric Smith simply sparkles as Professor Marvel and The Wizard. I didn't watch the CBC TV show "Over the Rainbow" so I didn't know the hype surrounding Danielle Wade, but I thought she had a super voice and held her own on stage.
After hearing the young girl's gasps of glee I was reminded of my first experience with the musical CATS in which I totally and absolutely thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. I'm sure there were heaps of adults who thought Andrew Lloyd Webber was just as cheesy then as I think he is now, but my exposure to CATS was one of the key ignitors of my love of theatre and I'll always think fondly of the show becuase of that.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's "new production" of THE WIZARD OF OZ won't be the best musical you've ever seen, but it will be for someone in the audience, and since families don't seem to share in the theatrical experience that often anymore, it still makes for a worthy experience.
THE WIZARD OF OZ is on now at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.). For tix call: 416-872-1212 or click here.