My preconceived notions of my would-be experience watching Soulpepper's current performance of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE were very wrong.
My notions were mostly based on two facts - fact #1: the play was best known to me as an Opera buffa (comedic Opera) by Rossini and I knew Rossini had adapted it from an initial play by Pierre Beaumarchais. Fact #2: The majority of Soulpepper's audience were/are highly educated senior citizens. All to say I thought I would have a very pleasant, if not a bit dull, evening of a well-executed perfomance that would allow me to enjoy this classic work of theatre, if not really like it.
What actually happened was that I had one of the most fun nights out at the theatre in a loooooooong time. THE BARBER OF SEVILLE is a totally hilarious, vivid, energetic, fun, piece of theatre that had me slapping my knee (a move reserved only if I find something really funny) that, quickly, completely won over the audience of sleepy seniors (the guy 3 seats over from me stopped snoozing very early on).
It was a total and utter blast.
The success of the show is in Director Leah Cherniak's vision for the production and in the performers total commitment to it. It helps that all the leads are fabulous and that Dan Chameroy could, as Figaro, sing the panties off of anyone. The rag-tag band of merry musicians look great, are fun and also exude talent; the choreography was ridiculous and amazing; and from the amount of times Oliver Dennis seemed as though he was going to break character and burst out laughing, I can only assume that the actors were also enjoying themselves - so how could we not too?!
My joy from the show was derived from the overall high-calibre quality of it, but also in watching something so unexpected. I came to see a play that was originally written in 1775, at a company known for presenting classic works of art and their audience has a rep. for being snobby bluehairs; so I was impressed by the gumption it takes to be bawdy for their typical crowd. It was refreshing to watch this play that could have so easily met my mundane expectations of it, and it was oh so liberating to laugh so so much at absolute silliness. I literally felt joyful watching it and joyful afterwards and it is incredible when a piece of theatre can do that.
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE is on now at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until June 8. For tix call: 416-866-8666 or click here.
By Melissa Farmer
Things are busy right now. The change of seasons brings with it a whole new set of chores, I have a moth problem in my closet, work is unrelenting and everyone I know is getting married in the next two months. Sometimes I go for days without thinking about anything other than what needs to get done next. Then I went to see Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean (Live). And for eighty minutes I stopped thinking about everything and anything at all.
The Golden Mean (Live) begins with two dancers in a warm, pulsing, fabric womb. Better than that, though, are the giant lamps that illuminate the space and provide a clinical, imposing presence on the glowing birth. Contradictions like this kept popping up: a pas de deux was both enticing and disturbing; the rhythmic, primitive sound was tense, but that rhythm soon became a kind of soothing percussive lullaby; the masks provided a strange intimacy and distance – there were moments when I could feel the breath of a performer not three feet to my right, but I couldn’t pick him out from the others as soon as he left my side. The show, as a whole, was yelling at me and whispering in my ear at the same time.
Although it may sound otherwise, The Golden Mean (Live) didn’t take itself too seriously. One performer’s tap dancing through her heart-wrenching wails was sad and funny, just like all the best things in life. The masks – despite perhaps getting an easy laugh with ten dancing Stephen Harpers – continued this sad/funny perfection.
I’m not sure what The Golden Mean (Live) was about, and I certainly couldn’t tell you what happened, or recount any kind of story. And it’s at that moment that I stopped trying to think about things, figure them out, that I began to love the show. So, thanks Marie Chouinard, and thanks as well to your mesmerising dancers, for providing me with a contemplative space to sit and watch and feel for a while. Now I feel ready to get back to those moths.
The Golden Mean (Live) is on only until May 12 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). For tix call: 416-368-3110 or click here.
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!
Cast of OVERRULED. Photo: Kreddible Trout Photography.
Two one-act plays - OVERRULED by George Bernard Shaw and ROMANCE by Neil LaBute are playing now until April 8 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (Queen St. E & Logan Ave.)
If you've never been to Red Sandcastle Theatre, don't expect much. I mean that in both the nicest/non-nicest ways possible.
The theatre is a Leslieville storefront converted into a simple, black(ish)-box theatre with 3 rows of seating and sparse, but adequete technical elements. When you open the door, you are literally IN the auditorium of the theatre, and if you choose a seat in the front row you are pretty much on stage with the actors. An intimate space like this is challenging for all theatre prouction participants (cramped space, limited means for...basically everything) , but it can also create the consistently sought after bond between actor and audience that's often lost in larger spaces and this bond is, of course, one of the best things about live theatre.
But the space dictates the mood, and right away, I didn't believe it. OVERRULED is a frothy farce (and I loooooove frothy farces) about the ridiculousness of love and the conventions we've built around it. We meet a couple who are both cheating on their respective partners with the other and can't decide if they feel guilty about it or if the pleasure of the romantic indulgence is worth the guilt. Their decision is soon made for them when they discover that each of their spouses is cheating on them with the other person's spouse (make sense? Basically they swap partners.) Naturally feelings of jealousy, envy and passion are evoked and everyone is silly, funny, absurd and happy in the end.
The actors were great. They were appropriately OTT absurd and effectively got their tongues around Shaw's language which is no easy feat. But the theatre was too dark and dreary for this high-octane romp about love and I thought the actors were constrained by the space and it's limitations. A farce is supposed to be BIG, bright and boisterous and a dark, intimate space means that the actors either can't be as bright and as big as they should be, or if they are, they're yelling in your face. Neither options are desirable.
The space served the second play, ROMANCE, much better. A devestating two-hander between ex-lovers/partners, LaBute shows us, yet again, the bleakest side of ourselves that is both shocking and obvious. Being in such close proximity to the LaBute-enduced raw emotions increased the intensity of the scene and made the level of awkwardness shoot through the roof. Amazing.
The cast of ROMANCE rotates each night and I saw the gay male version which was so taut, so fraught with tension, that at this point, I can't imagine it any other way. Amos Crawley and Kelly Penner
were really dynamite as the broken ex-boyfriend and the guy who carelessly jilted him. Watching them I forgot about the space I was in; my attention was solely focussed on them and how totally intese it was. I was a believer.
OVERRULED/ROMANCE is on at the Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. E.) until April 6.
For tix call: 416-845-9411.
By Daniel Nyman
Walking into the Berkeley Street Theatre, the first thing I was struck by was the stripped down, deconstructed appearance of the performance space. This may not have been much of an eye opener for someone who has never been to this theatre space, but having seen many shows in the Berkeley over the course of last 20 years, to see the complete removal of the stage and proscenium arch, the revealing of the windows onto the street outside, and the reconfiguration of the seating was a bit of shocker.
Beyond an initial surprise, however, the pared down esthetic of the space revealed two things: the first being the real hidden beauty of the building in which the theatre is housed; and the second (and more important) being a play that is, for once, truly served by the removal of a constructed theatrical environment and reliance on the innate strength of a great script and strong performances.
THIS, by Melissa James Gibson, is a contemporary story of four longtime friends living in New York. The play opens at the crescendo of a wine-infused dinner party hosted by married couple Tom (Jonathon Young) and Marrell (Yanna McIntosh). Tom, Marrell and Alan (Alon Nashman) convince reluctant Jane (Laura Condlln) to partake in a little party game. Jane is to leave the room while the others come up with a story. Jane then comes back into the room and tries to guess what the story is using only ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions. The hitch: there is no story. Jane is left to her own devises to interpret whatever she believes the story to be…
The ensuing events are both humourous and profound; friends coming to terms with their desires, mortality, life meaning and, most importantly, with each other. While by no means novel or groundbreaking themes, Gibson’s script truly feels of our time. First produced in 2009 at New York’s Playwright’s Horizon, THIS manages to capture the simultaneous profound and mundane nature of many moments that shape contemporary urban life.
During the performance the actors flow between scenes, between each other, and in and out of the audience. As designer Astrid Jansen suggests in her program notes, “we hope to make the acting area more integrated with the audience; not to be interactive, but intimate, to break down the distance between performer and audience member.”
THIS isn’t a fantastical narrative. It feels quite real, which is why the un-theatrical performance space works. It’s also why THIS is worth checking out.
THIS runs until April 13th at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.). For tix call: 416-368-3110 or click here.
Kreddible Trout Photography (L-R: Kelly Penner & Caitlin Stewart)
Neotany Theatre's inaugral production opens tonight! Artistic Producer Carly Chamberlin gives the low-down on the what, where and why.
1. Neoteny Theatre is new on the Toronto theatre scene; can you give us the company's elevator pitch?
At its most distilled level, the company’s mandate is to produce the unexpected: contemporary interpretations of classical through to Victorian and Edwardian works and unearthing more obscure contemporary pieces.
The name “Neoteny” was inspired by a quote from Tom Robbins’ "Still Life With Woodpecker". He defines neoteny as “remaining young” and continues, “Behavioral traits such as curiosity about the world, flexibility of response, and playfulness are common to practically all young mammals but are usually rapidly lost with the onset of maturity in all but humans. Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober,
responsible, and cautious, but because it has been
playful, rebellious, and immature.”
It’s not just a clever word and quote, but rather the touchstone for what our approach to the work should be. Taking the work (but not ourselves) seriously, embracing risk and fun: these are the things I want Neoteny Theatre to be defined by.
2. What do you want to do with Neoteny Theatre that other companies aren't doing? What will set you apart?
More than anything I want our work to be focused on the actor, the text, and a sense of play. That’s not to say there aren’t other companies in Toronto doing that now, but there’s often a lot of other...stuff...being piled on top.
We are also one of few young/indie companies with a focus on “older” works. It’s important to me that we combine a fresh, young perspective with a real respect for and understanding of the text.
3. Shaw & LaBute - not a run-of-the-mill pairing. What attracted you to putting these two guys together?
When I read OVERRULED for the first time, I knew I wanted to stage it: it was funny and weird, and its point of view seemed so unexpected for a play of that era. I came to realize though, that on its own, or with another piece with a similar tone, it wouldn’t have the same impact as being paired with something contrasting.
After quite a while of reading tons of contenders, I picked up the book of LaBute shorts that I’d been carrying in my purse for over a month. I read Romance and my immediate reaction was, “Of course.” The piece is raw, a little dark, and provides a pretty fascinating contrast to OVERRULED. Plus LaBute wrote the play with no assigned gender roles, which affords the really cool added opportunity to use four different versions of casting.
As an artist I gravitate toward work that asks big questions and challenges its audience to do the same, without sacrificing humour. Certainly both Shaw and Labute’s work walk this line, and I believe pairing them together enables us to further delve into the extremes of the lightness and darkness of the subject matter. By diving head first into a heightened, farcical style as well as into a raw, uncomfortable, seemingly unrehearsed contemporary style, we come as close as possible to the some of the “big questions” both pieces explore: What is love? What is commitment? Why do we do the things we do? (SPOILER ALERT: The plays don’t have all the answers.)
4. This is Neoteny Theatre's debut show; can you tell us what that means to you and how you're feeling?
I was originally going to say that it was this surreal culmination of a lot of work and learning..but I’m now realizing that “culmination” is actually the wrong word. It already feels like just the first step in a much larger journey.
On a personal level, I feel really honoured by the support and generosity the project has received. It’s truly humbling to be supported not only by family and friends, but also our mentors, former teachers, peers, and artists we admire.
I’m genuinely excited and eager for audiences to see the production - the combo might make your head spin...but in the best possible way!
5. In an ideal world, what would be next for Neoteny Theatre? What's next in a realistic world?
I have a particular lesser-produced Shakespeare in mind for our next project. As far as idealism vs realism, I think the plan is pretty realistic. Once OVERRULED & ROMANCE is closed, Susan Bond (Neoteny’s resident dramaturg and my assistant director) and I will be hashing out what kind of work needs to be done. We’re both sticklers for detail, and I would rather take the time to properly plan, cut, and cast, than rush and do a shoddy job.
In the very short term, I think we’re all going to take a long nap.
OVERRULED / ROMANCE opens tonight (March 27) and runs to April 6 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. E.). For tix call: 416-845-9411 or click here.
Buster Canfield and a circus flea
Finally! The Flea Circus makes a stop in T.O. If you've ever wondered what makes a flea circus tick (pun INtended), then look no further than these answers below. Buster Canfield, legendary flea trainer, answers some tough questions.
1. How do you make the fleas perform?
First, the fleas are not "made" to perform. They do so voluntarily because they love to be in the lime-light. I audition fleas from across the country, and young larva come from far and wide to participate in our renouned circus. The successful fleas, the ones with sparkle and that certain, show-business "It", undergo a lengthy training and conditioning process, to learn their various acts. Like people, fleas are individuals with individual talents. A juggling flea, for example, might make a terrible strong flea. An educated flea might be great at mathematics, but lousy at ballet dancing. Each flea is placed in the act that best exploits their natural abilities.
2. What's the best trick you've ever taught a flea?
About ten years ago, one of my tightrope fleas hurt four of his legs and had to go into early retirement. He was a gifted learner, so I trained him to do my housekeeping chores. Vacuuming, dusting, a little ironing. He loved to brew my morning coffee too. I never had the heart to tell him he made it too darn strong.
3. Have you thought of using other insects in your circus or are you strictly a flea trainer?
The relative strength and longevity of the pulex irratans, or the Human Flea, make them ideally suited for show business. However, I once tried to train a grasshopper to chirp on command thinking her musical accompanyment would make a clever addition to the circus. Sadly, she was terribly lazy and shiftless, and eventually ran off to live with some industrious ants. I'm not sure how she fared. After the winter came, we never heard from her again.
4. When you travel, how does the production travel together? Does everyone get their own sleeping quarters?
Most of our fleas travel together in the same empty candy tin. However, our star attractions often negotiate their own match box. During the off season, when shows are scarce, they like to holiday together on the back of a mangy old cockerspaniel named Jethro. And of course, at mealtimes the fleas gather together and nibble on my left arm.
5. What's the next tour stop for you and the fleas? I think they'd be a huge success in Russia!
Funny you should mention. The first known flea circus is said to have occurred in a Siberian prison in the 1500s, where inmates trained fleas to race and pulls small pieces of refuse along little makeshift tracks.
6. How did you get into flea training? Who did you learn the trade from?
Well, I could answer that question. However, that is the subject of my autobiographical play, "Buster Canfield and his Amazing Fleas" which can be seen in a special, advanced sneak preview at Theatre Direct, on March 16th!
BUSTER CANFIELD AND HIS AMAZING CIRCUS OF FLEAS rolls into town for 1 day only! March 16th at 2pm. Theatre Direct in the Artscape Wynchwood Barns (601 Christie St.) For tickets call: 416-537-4191 or click here.
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.