By Jeffrey Johns
Guys? First thing you gotta know about this play? It’s looooong. With intermissions, it’s four hours. So, you know…consider thyself warned! Verily indeed!
The info my “play-mate” (get it? You get it.) got on the play didn’t communicate this fact so it was a weeee bit of a surprise to us when we got our programs. Not sure if we arrived mentally prepared to spend around three and a half hours in a warm room sitting on hard plastic chairs. But thanks to me, you guys will be! You’re welcome!
I think maybe an investment of four hours of time is a lot to ask of an audience. Babysitters! Dogs that need to pee! Slow-cookers left on!
Ok, second thing I have to say? I think length would be my only complaint about this production. And that Tatiana Jennings, the director, designer and artistic director of this production knows what she is doing.
What did I like?
Well, overall, I felt like it had a certain something. Hard to describe it exactly. Like it had… “style”. Not like high waisted skirts or bell bottoms style, but like this consistent vibe throughout that I found myself, well, kind of entranced by. You know, style! Does that make sense? Probably not. Verily! I Pray thee!
Anyways, in particular, what did I like?
The set – all white, with for the most part the only furniture or decoration being a number of flat white-topped chrome benches of differing length. While the main actors in any scene did their thing, the other players were in the background moving the benches around, setting them on edge, spinning them to show the mirrored underneath, or laying them down. I thought this constant motion gave the production a sense of vibrancy.
The use of multi-media - in what I thought was to great effect - projections that reflected off the white walls and benches, are used throughout. These projections ranged from footage of film versions of Richard III, to images helping to describe the scene location, to television snow. Music and other audio is also employed in places.
The cast – Seemed rock solid to me. Other than Lee McDonald as Richard, each other cast member is tasked with embodying numerous characters sometimes of different genders, and typically shifting from one identity to another with only the slightest of costume change. It was kind of amazing. Four hours. All of the dialogue of each assigned character to remember. Plus when not in the scene, tasked with precisely moving benches.
And McDonald as Richard. He plays the character not as joyless and brooding, but instead as a homicidal heel, full of jocularity while carrying his murderous machinations. I thought it was an interesting choice, and it added some humour to the production.
The costuming – The costumes worn by the players do not seem set in any particular time. For the male cast members it’s kind of Reservoir Dogs-y – suits, skinny ties (and at times horn rimmed sunglasses), while the women donned different dresses of no consistent era . I guess I would say that the costuming, rather than supporting the particular character wearing, seemed more more to serve to support the style of the entire production (style!).
So that’s it. I thought it was great, other than being a bit of an unexpected investment time-wise. And I don’t know what one would do about the whole length-thing. Gotta be pretty bold to start editing out stuff from Shakespeare, I suppose.
Thus do I bestow upon this production 4 Go See Its out of 5!
RICHARD III, The Pleasures of Violence (one of the Bard's longest plays) is on until Sept. 28 at Zuke Studios (1581 Dupont St.) For tix click here.
By Jeffrey Johns
Guys, guys, guys. What can I tell you? MONDAY NIGHTS. Right?
Full disclosure, I went to this piece while suffering from some sort of bacterial infection in my face that blew up the left side of my head like a balloon. Which I was not crazy about. But I tried not to let it affect my review! Because I am a trooper. Reviewing is what I do. In my spare time. When the good reviewers can’t make it.
Anyhoo, MONDAY NIGHTS is described in the program not as a play, but as an “interactive basketball performance”. I would agree with that. Five dudes in the theatre scene used to gather every Monday at the basketball courts at Bathurst and Queen’s Quay and ball. From these Monday nights sprung the idea of MONDAY NIGHTS. No idea where they got the title from, though.
The audience is broken out into four teams, for which one of the players is the captain. We were blue team, headed by Richard Lee, who could be described, perhaps, as the godfather of the group.
What did I think?
Well, I thought it started off gangbusters, with some really creative use of multimedia. By which I mean headphones, through which your team captain is introduced to you, and you get to hear not just how your captain would describe themselves, but also the other players’ view them. I thought that was super cool.
And at times, they would stop the action, a couple of players would be spot-lit and there would be some heavy thoughts on what the one player thought the other was getting from the Monday night sessions. Although not all of them hit home for me, I thought it was a really neat idea. We can all have such serious questions and opinions about why those close to us do what they do, and yet never, ever ask those questions or share those opinions. Too dang uncomfy, amirite!?
What I didn’t like as much? Well, there is a lot of audience participation and audience volunteering in MONDAY NIGHTS. Which is good! But at some point, I felt like with all of that participation and volunteering, it started getting away from the examination of these guys and their inter-relationships through the “rock” (Get it? A little b-ball reference there) which I found really interesting, and instead started to resemble a team building exercise at a corporate retreat, with our players as the facilitators.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love me a good corporate retreat! I like building birdhouses! And scavenger hunts! It’s just that I felt like these guys had something deeper in their hands that they were on the cusp of going somewhere that your garden-variety corporate retreat facilitator does not. (No offence to corporate retreat facilitators. I love you guys! Go team!)
And, also, just so’s you know, this performance has what I would describe as a lot of actual basketball playing. By the players and the audience members alike. So be prepared to watch a fair amount of random people playing basketball in street clothes.
In summation, your honour, I felt like it was good, but still came away a little disappointed. But you probably shouldn’t take my word for it, anyways, because I gotta say that all the rest of the folks in the audience seemed to be really enjoying themselves, and were totally into it the entire time.
Rating: One three point Go See It shot out of five.
MONDAY NIGHTS is on at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W.) until September 20. For tix. click here.
By Lindsay Swanson
To say this performance is powerful does not even begin to describe the emotional rollercoaster that is Rosa Laborde’s TRUE.
TRUE is the story of 3 sisters as they are unexpectedly re-introduced to their estranged father, Roy, and embark on a less-than-heartwarming story of a father and his daughters.
It is a sad story of alcoholism and abuse, and the lasting effects that this has on children-turned-adults. But it also a story of ageing parents – and asks the question: can you find compassion for someone that once caused such pain and lasting sadness, but is now old and in need of care? Can you turn your back on your estranged father that now has Alzheimer’s, and does not recall the pain that he once caused? The sisters’ (Shannon Taylor, Ingrid Doucet, and Sabrina Grdevich) emotional battles with meeting their father were raw and, aptly, true.
Layne Coleman’s performance of Roy was impeccable as he delivered a character that simultaneously invoked hatred, disgust, and compassion. As Roy’s memory fades, he only presents the love he had for his daughter’s – which is the point that your inner emotional battle heats up and leaves you contemplating what you would do in his daughter’s position.
The story is set in an urban café – both in writing and in theatrical venue. The Citizenry Café on Queen St. W. is a brilliant site-specific venue for this performance. Blended with the superb acting of the entire cast, the result is a truly transported experience.
This performance is a must-see. Despite its heaviness, it has true comedic moments between 3 sisters. Scott McCord as Marie’s husband is hilarious – and adds a perfect element of comedic relief.
TRUE is on at The Citizenry Cafe (982 Queen St. W.) only until Sept. 13. For tix click here.
Before Tuesday night, the best knowledge I had about Glenn Gould was that there is a studio in the CBC building named after him. He was a musician and there's a bronze statue of him on a bench outside the CBC building, looking very cold. C'est tout.
After I saw Soulpepper's current production of GLENN, I'm certainly not well-versed in the man's life history, but I do feel like I got a sense of who he was and what drove him to be successful. I have an idea of some of the struggles and triumphs he endured and I have a better understanding of his impact on world music. Pretty good insight for a couple of hours, non?
Written by David Young, GLENN takes a look at Gould's life in 4 stages - when he was a young prodigy obsessed with the nuances of music; when he is an burgeoning and successful performer who is both inspired by, and a slave to, the audience; the mid-life perfectionist who won't settle for less than the best, and the older, slightly introspective Glenn who was finally basking in critical success, but still a workaholic. While at times confusing, this 4-man Gould virtuoso was mostly a really beautiful convention and ensured the audience could know the most about Gould in the 2.5 hours of time that we had. What really made the 4-men team work well together was the choreography by Monica Dotter. I can only imagine that Dotter had a blank slate to work with when she started - no stage directions to adhere to whatsoever - and she created fluid and delicate movements for 4 men in trenchcoats (ie. potentially cumbersome) to perform that not only enhanced the dream-like quality of the moment, but also served the necessary technical stage purposes. They moved as one person, but also as 4 individuals; simply put, it was really beautiful to watch.
The 4 Goulds were outstanding, each strengthening the ensemble, while also shining as their individual part of Glenn. And I finally understood what all the hoopla is about surrounding Brent Carver. As soon as he opened his mouth, I was riveted. He was fascinating to watch.
GLENN is a completely different from any show I have seen...in a long time. Young wrote the play almost like a piece of music - and the variations in pace and style are the show's biggest strength, and at times, also it's greatest weakness. There were moments when the play seemed to get caught up in itself and continue with a narrative that was irrelevant to the rest of the story - it was these moments where the audience felt restless and GLENN seemed to drag. But these moments are few, and the strengths of the play do outnumber anything else. It's worth seeing to learn more about a Canadian icon we are told next-to-nothing about, but it's almost worth seeing more for just how completely different it is from anything else happening on the stage. It's a real theatrical accomplishment.
GLENN is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until October 4. For tix click here.
Mirvish has brought in a touring production of WICKED for what seems like the 12,000 time (it might actually only be 3-4x), and it's pretty obvious why it keeps coming back - the show is totally awesome.
The original Broadway cast of WICKED was comprised of a dream team that can never be repeated, but it's always a pleasant surprise how well the touring casts do to measure up. (Touring productions always pose a bit of a quality risk in my experience) But these gals, and their supporting actors, have got what it takes and it's just so much fun to watch. The energy is up, the high-notes are hit, and it seemed (to me) like no one missed their mark - ever. It was an incredibly solid production of a fabulously modern musical that (thankfully) combines the spectacle of song and dance with actual thought-provoking and timely relevant issues. In short: we need more musicals like WICKED.
WICKED is on at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.) until November 2, 2014. For tix click here.
There's a $25 lottery for WICKED tix. Show up at the theatre. 2.5 hrs in advance of the performance and a lmited number or Orchestra seats will be up-for-grabs in a lottery system. 2 tickets/person. Cash only, and both you and your +1 need to be present.
It's hard to pinpoint what makes Soulpepper's production of TARTUFFE so enjoyable. The translation of Moliere's French text into English rhyming couplets is particularly intelligent and funny, but so is the direction by Soulpepper stronghold Laszlo Marton, who was particularly adept at the seamless merging of a hilariously farcial scene into a deadly serious one.
The cast brought their A-game and were all fantastically comfortable within their own roles and with each other, and the minimal yet extremely effective set design complimented the busyness of the show with its simplicity.
But I think what really put it over the 'sh*t-this-is-good' edge for me, was Diego Matamoros. His performance as the title-character Tartuffe, was so delicately nuanced; so engragingly villianistic, yet so simultaneously pathetic, that I was thrilled to watch him. Marton and Matamoros are long-time collaborators and it's easy to see that their strength lies in their partnership - both excel on their own of course, but together is when the magic really seems to happen (think about the Soulpepper production of THE ROYAL COMEDIANS from a few years ago), and we're all the better because of it.
The moral of the review is this: TARTUFFE is an awesome production littered with some of the best theatrical talent this theatrically-talented city has to offer. It will not only knock your socks off with the overall performance, but the message of the morally-questionable, bizarre compulsion for humans to see only what we want to when it suits us, comes shining through. Moliere still gets it after all these years. And so does Marton and Matamoros.
TARTUFFE is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Tank House Lane) until September 20. For tix click here.
Shakespeare in High Park is on! It's a truly fabulous experience during a Toronto summer and it's imperative to be on the must-do list every year. This year we've got two productions again (which is super); TITUS ANDRONICUS, the uber bloody and violent play about revenge and..well, death, and AS YOU LIKE IT, the light-hearted comedy about love and forgiveness, and basically everything that's the opposite of TITUS. In fact, opposites is sort of the theme if you want to compare the two productions.
TITUS ANDRONICUS is seldom produced. It's a gory, mega-violent story filled with shocking crimes against humanity, and vulgar behaviour. But it's also a story of parental love and loyalty, and how trauma can lead a person to commit unspeakable crimes they may not have been capable of before their trauma influenced them. It's a real psychology textbook and it's a difficult play, so kudos to CanadianStage and director Keira Loughran for having the gumption to take it on. Shakespeare in High Park usually shows the Bard's comedies and so this bleak play was a refreshing change from the norm - sorry outraged parents, perhaps next time you will investigate the story before bringing your 7-year old to the theatre.
Unfortunately though, this production of TITUS is flawed. The intense strength of characters wasn't there, and so the extreme emotions needed to behave in such heinous ways never arrived, which made many of the violent acts seem like over-kill (no pun intended). The movements by the ensemble were awkward and out-of-place; the cast didn't look comfortable in group battle scenes or a forest scene where they suddenly took on animal characteristics, and so I was uncomfortable watching them. The show seemed bogged down in extraneous stage business added purely for spectacle, but none of it ever strengthened the story or character development.
AS YOU LIKE IT is the stuff that Shakespeare in High Park fans are accustomed to - it's drole and everyone gets married at the end; it's pretty much what we expect. However this production had an ace in the hole that isn't always seen in Park productions, and that ace came in the form of Amy Rutherford, the excellently cast Rosalind. Multi-Dora nominated Rutherford ROCKS as Rosalind. She animates the stage when she's on it and elevates the game of those around her. She really gets rolling when Rosalind dons her male persona of Ganymede - here Rutherford lets loose her full canon of playfulness as she wraps her tongue around the iambic pentameter like its her native speech pattern. The entire cast gelled in this production, with an sureness absent in TITUS - perhaps that's the result of TITUS being the more difficult play to navigate, or perhaps it's because they have Rutherford as a ringer. Regardless though, if you can only see one, make it AS YOU LIKE IT.
TITUS ANDRONICUS and AS YOU LIKE IT play on alternating nights (except Monday nights) at the High Park amphitheatre until August 31. For tix click here. Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can with a suggested $20 donation.
By Michael Hodgson
In BORNE, nine performers with lived experience of physical disabilities, share their stories while rolling, weaving, singing and even sitting on a spinning wheel. Challenging our notions of what it means to be a performer in a performance, these real stories told by their owners, are more than presented; they are inherently honest and a gauntlet of emotions and discourse.
We begin with the stunning wheel work of Nancy Xia underscored by the live piano accompaniment of performer Danilo Raralio. She is spinning and floating on the moon. Enter the others, as they all don masks and float with Nancy. “We are floating – not falling,” states the cast - and we agree. I was impressed by the full cast weaving in and out of one another and thought of how long this choreography would’ve taken to master. Quickly the masks are removed and we are face to face with the daily encounters and navigations of life in a wheelchair. We are told that the cast escapes to get away from the issues of life in a chair; the patronizing ways of the general public specifically – and they directly address us too. In the montage of “things we hear everyday” the cast shares the exclamations of pity in challenges, or shock in successes they are privy to. Have we ever said or done these things?
The ensemble work here is outstanding. It is clear to us that the performers are not trained actors. We don’t care. Hearing the tales of how these performers came to be in their chairs is of course hard to hear. We hear tales of attempted suicides, mishaps, crashes and are moved on a number of occasions. Do we pity these people? When we first begin to hear the personal stories, maybe, but quickly we learn of their determination, their strength and ability. We see this and rexamine our notion of what it means to be disabled. The cast is comprised of lawyers, arts industry professionals, graduate students and an Order of Canada recipient.
The title of the piece is conceived by a question and answer session with co-creator Judith Thompson in which performer Maayan Ziv uttered the answer “born”. We learn that when the performers began life in a chair, they felt born again. Dan Harvey states that if he could go back in time and tell his younger self to not go on the trip that caused the disability – he wouldn’t.
I highly recommend going to see this unique and informative piece. You will question yourself, feel more emotions than you're used to, and leave with a sense of hope and perspective.
BORNE is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). For tix click here.
Reginald Rose's TWELVE ANGRY MEN is a theatrical classic. Twelve men, all members of a jury, debate the guilt of a teenager, and consequently decide his life or death fate with their verdict. Eleven men believe him to be guilty, one isn't sure; and so the outlier forces the group to discuss the crime when no one really cares to (there are baseball tickets to be used!). Through the discussion, individual prejudices are exposed, life's baggage is revealed and emotions run very very high. It's a truly fabulous play.
Soulpepper's current production of it is really good - but it's not great. I've come to expect greatness from Soulpepper and the caliber of men in their company is dynamite, so I was honestly expecting to have my face blown off by how fantastic this show would be....but it wasn't.
But let's talk about the high points, because those are always more fun to focus on, and there most certainly were a few of 'em: The set, galley-style with the audience on either side peering in at the men in the middle, brought the intensity of the emotion closer, and was one of my favourite parts. The crowd I saw the show with was largely unfamiliar with the play and so watching the surprised facial expressions across the way was oodles of fun. Joseph Ziegler as Juror #3 is at the top of his game (he's soooo goood), Stuart Hughes as outlier Juror #6 is pretty great, and Robert Nasmith as the elderly Juror #7 made me feel happy that I had the pleasure of watching him. There are definitely stellar elements to the show, but ultimately, it seemed... under rehearsed. For the first 30 minutes I was nervous actors were forgetting lines, the witty banter upon the men's initial entry sometimes seemed forced and the choreography of the movements was evident; the ease of which Soulpepper usually performs, particularly with large ensemble casts, was missing. All the elements of a fab production were present, but the X-factor that really lifts it over the top, was strangely absent. I'm still not sure what happened.
If there is a saving grace to the production, it's that the message that objectivity is impossible comes shining through. Our personal experience inevitably clouds our judgement and we don't even see it coming. It shapes our words and feelings and conducts how we guide ourselves through the world - this is what makes us all uniquely flawed and this is what should spark empathy in our hearts for others. I'm not sure if that's what Reginald Rose intended for me to take away from his play, but I'm glad that is what I've got; it was a refreshing reminder and I liked it.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). For tix click here.
By Michael Hodgson
Libido Production’s staging of QUEER BATHROOM STORIES at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is full of information.
Let me begin with a statement: I am a gay male and have been comfortable being so for at least a decade, but not always. In my life however, I seem to have had very little contact with the trans-community and the issues, dilemmas and day-to-day navigations that result within this group of society.
We all use the washroom every day, publicly or at home, but how many of us question whether or not we will be accepted in the gendered bathroom we choose. As a trans-person though, which room do we enter? A thought that the majority of us do not own is explored, as is the notion of gender being a social construction. Sheila Cavanagh (the playwright), Associate Professor in Sociology and the Sexuality Studies Coordinator at York University wrote the original text for this show in 2010 after compiling over 100 letters written by LGBTQ and Two-Spirited individuals about such bathroom experiences; sexualized letters and also stories of tolerance and intolerance were in abundance.
How does the audience digest such a production? I would be lying if I said it was easy to digest the constant shifting of characters and the usage of toilet humor; there is a feeling of “academic essay” on stage and social commentary trumps narrative throughline. In the one-hour production, however, there are many transitions between the presentations of the letters that are somewhat effective. We see unique movement sequences, silhouettes of actors behind, in and around the bathroom stall setup. However, there are moments where it feels as though director Megan Watson wanted to try out some things just to be ‘interesting.’ In these moments, the stage devices feel contrived and nonsensical. The sound direction of Verne Good was lacking at times as well - static bursts and an overly used echo effect stand out as problematic. The head-mics worn by the cast seemed like overkill as the house isn't large and they only seemed to encourage the aforementioned echo.
The cast of three: Hallie Burt, Tyson James and Chy Ryan Spain have quite the task each night as they play hyperbolized versions of the letter writers and adopt countless voices and accents. I am sure this did not come without much effort. This vocal work, in particular by Tyson James, was indeed the highlight of his performance.
As a member of the queer community, I wanted to love the show. I wanted to feel connected. I simply didn’t, and it was mostly because it felt as though this production was a draft assignment for a group of university students in a gender studies course, and was not ready for a professional stage.
Queer Bathroom Stories runs at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.) until June 15th. For tix click here.