By Tessa Hill
For 18 years, Ross Petty Productions have been putting on pantomimes in the Elgin Theatre. Every year there is a wonderfully funny classic, complete with musical performances and witty jokes.
This year, Ross Petty Productions put on their first production of The Little Mermaid, clearly stating at the beginning of the show that it is not the Disney version. The play takes place in the Toronto harbour where a young mermaid named Angel (played by Chilina Kennedy) is celebrating her 18th birthday, and her first chance to go up to the surface. But Angel doesn’t care for humans like her sisters do; she is focused on cleaning up the garbage the humans dump in the lake. As Angel, her best friend Cory the Clownfish (played by Reid Janisse), and the bossy Shelly the Shrimp (played by Lana Carrillo) swim up to the surface they meet a group of activists, one of which Angel falls in love with. While up there, they find out that their fame-obsessed Aunt Plumbum (played by Dan Chameroy) is about to sign away the harbour to the horrible sea wizard Ogopogo (played by Ross Petty). So, they must travel to Niagara Falls and stop to deal from going through.
The cast of The Little Mermaid was great. Chilina Kennedy and Marc Devigne, as Angel and Adam the activist, were fish-tastic as the lead couple. And although Ross Petty didn’t play the dame of the show this year, he was villainous as ever playing the sea wizard Ogopogo. Nevertheless, Dan Chameroy definitely lived up to the ridiculous part of Aunt Plumbum; a funny and over-the-top character that made the audience burst into laughter.
One thing that was quite surprising this year (in a good way) was the production’s choreography. The Little Mermaid featured Jordan Clark, the winner of season 4 of "So You Think You Can Dance Canada", as the evil sidekick Eris. In addition to the wicked dancing of Eris, the ensemble had us hooked with their moves too. I think Marc Kimelman did a great job as the choreographer, making the moves inventive and not too exaggerated. The show was well danced and well choreographed.
I truly enjoyed this play and I think The Little Mermaid is a great show for everyone. It is very funny and interactive; kids absolutely love it! They even slip in jokes for the adults (though there weren’t as many Rob Ford jokes as I expected). I have seen many of the past Ross Petty Productions pantomimes in the past and every year they are as funny and cheesy as ever. The Little Mermaid combines the classic story with modern references and hit songs that everyone enjoys. It is a wonderful play that everyone will want to see, and I definitely recommend it.
The Little Mermaid is on now at The Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge St.) until January 4, 2014. For tix click here.
With all the recent talk of crack, it's about time we finally get to the good stuff: the craic of the Irish and the kind that was on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre last night during the performance of ONCE.
A stage adaptation of the film with the same name, ONCE tells the charming story of two people who bring out the best in one another in the way only falling in love can do. Set against the backdrop of an Irish pub (as we picture everything in Ireland to be), the show defies the stereotypical musical genre and relies on the quiet beauty of the story to compel the audience. It works.
Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of signing - the cast of 13 are all uber-talented musicans, singers and actors - and there are songs scattered throughout the entire show; some even include dancing. But the pre-intermission number with tap dancing chorus girls ain't here. Instead you'll find mostly ballads or slow-building guitar numbers that focus on poetry rather than toe-tapping. It's subtle, it's pretty and it's very engaging.
Much of the show relies on the chemistry and likeability of the main couple and Stuart Ward as the Guy is the epitome of the dreamy alt-rock, guitar-strumming, sensitive yet manly hipster. He elevates the show everytime he gets behind the mic. Dani de Waal as the Girl wasn't my fav., but she's got a great set of pipes and the sparks between her and Ward were real and palpable and just what was needed. The all-encompassing, emotionally-confusing first days of falling in love is one of the experiences that makes life worth living - despite how terrifying it is, it's also absolutely thrilling - and it's a really special show that can remind you of that.
Those expecting a more typical musical may not be won over - I could tell the show didn't meet the spectacle expectations of a few fellow audience members, but the usual musical pastiche wouldn't have worked here, it would have hurt the story and it's beauty to try it.
Arrive early so you can grab a drink on stage. For real.
ONCE is on now at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) until January 5. For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
God of Carnage is a comedic story of two sets of parents attempting to deal with some undesirable-yet-entirely-childlike-behavior of each of their sons, by meeting for a civilized afternoon conversation.
The parents are convincing in their defense of their respective children, however each parent – in time – reveals that there is much more to their daily lives than the mischievous actions of their children. The sophistication of each couple breaks down over the course of 90 minutes, in this purely comedic and entertaining production.
I enjoyed the subtext of this production immensely. It demonstrated so naturally how parents are just trying to get through parenthood as unscathed as possible – for them and the child. Often I have strong opinions on the current methods of parenting; as a childless woman, however, I dare not voice any of these opinions (an understanding that I often forget after a couple of drinks, surrounded by other childless 30-somethings). I am not speaking about antiquated anecdotes such as "a child should be seen and not heard" - my opinions are not at all related to whether I should be sharing my space at a hipster restaurant on Ossington, or all-inclusive beach resort (that said, the adult-only resort *is* quite lovely in its serenity). My opinions are more related to the disciplinary slack that kids-these-days experience. I do not mean to get all "when I was a kid..." or anything, but, well, when I was kid, you got in trouble. Real trouble. With consequences. And your parents' natural reaction was not to assume that you were unjustly accused. No. In fact, they assumed you were 148% to blame, and perhaps even responsible for any other child's involvement or mischievousness. Nowadays, it seems to me (the childless 30-something) that kids have it pretty easy in the court of elementary law: they are innocent until they proven guilty, after which point, someone else is to blame for that child's poor choices. God of Carnage is an entertaining conversation between parents who want to defend their respective child, but yet struggle with the banality of this conversation, and at times, the absurdity.
But do not get me wrong, this story is not all about the children and parenting. Once the rum is introduced to the scene, the conversation swiftly moves into highly entertaining chaos of drunk middle aged professionals, who are left to wonder how they found themselves drunkenly sloppy in the middle of the afternoon.
This production is an ensemble of very talented actors who were beyond convincing of their characters, and seemed to truly enjoy their evening as much as I did.
God of Carnage is good for a laugh, and would be appreciated by parents of any age; I would recommend it for anyone looking for an evening-night-out gift for their parents.
God of Carnage is on at the Panasonic Theatre (651Yonge St.) until December 15. For tix click here.
By Jeff Johns
Guys…? This play was great.
The set: A 1930s Budapest “parfumerie”. Crazy-detailed. From the intricately detailed wood accents to the old-timey light switches to the products on the store shelves.
The cast: Large, made up of seven main players and seven more playing minor roles. Yet each member completely in tune with one another. At times the action onstage resembled an intricate dance as the different characters came together, then flitted apart. It came as no surprise to learn that this is not the first time Soulpepper has presented this production with this cast.
The story: A number of intertwining storylines - a wife stepping out on her still-in-love husband with a scoundrel, a family man frightened for his job, a delivery boy eager to be treated and respected as a man, and…yes, anonymous pen pals whose true love just may be closer than they realize.
The production seemed to me to play a lot like a Hollywood romantic comedy (“Hey folks, if you liked Love Actually, you’ll love…”). It is light-hearted and fun. You may not stay up late into the night pondering the meaning of this one, but there are lots of yuks, moments of genuine sweetness, and happy endings for all (save for a certain scoundrel, who receives his come-uppance but good)!
The conclusion: Four Go See Its out of five!
Pafumerie is on now at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). For tix click here.
Robert LePage set the bar incredibly high for himself a long time ago. He has a reputation for such theatrical wizardry, that my expectations are always nothing less than "bedazzle me". He has an ability to re-create the stage into something otherwordly, into something that had never crossed my aging adult imagination before, yet something that is always absolutely ideal. His ideas are not only fantastically creative, but they're also simple, serve the story well, and make complete sense; the ultimate theatrical hat trick.
Needles and Opium is no exception. In it, three parallel storylines intertwine – one about the real-life French poet and author Jean Cocteau's trip to New York plus his opium addiction, another about Miles Davis’ experimental history in Paris – both with his music and with heroin - and another about a contemporary and sensitive Quebecois man who has suffered a recent romantic heartbreak that has left him devastated. All three characters are trying to free themselves of the emotional turmoil that comes with addiction.
What makes this show a success is primarily Carl Fillion's set design and Bruno Matte's lighting design. The action takes place almost entirely in a three-dimensional, three-sided revolving cube which easily morphs into an infinite number of settings using lighting cues, a series of trap doors, finely-tuned projections and a few props. The two actors (Marc Labreche plays both Jean Cocteau and the Quebecois) navigate their way across the cube using pulleys, acrobatics and their own strength, aided by a crew who matched the men in agility and timing, and who ensured the production achieved the smooth transitions it needed to keep it's sense of wonder. In one scene the cube was a sparkly sea of stars in a night sky, the next it was a recording studio, the next it was a dingy hotel room, and then a dark street, and then another hotel room, and then it was New York, and then Paris, and then...you get the idea.
Marc Labreche as the Quebecois man, delivers the emotional impact for the show. As an actor who has been recently left by his lover, he deals with his pain with remarkable charm. He’s not short-tempered or broody, but he is having trouble sleeping and is partial to the subtle, inexplicable emotional breakdowns that we’re all familiar with – the ones that come out of nowhere triggered by a word that reminds us of the love lost. The scene where Lebreche asks a hypnotist to hypnotize his pain away is heart wrenchingly beautiful and will resonate with anyone who's felt the sting of rejection.
LePage has a unique way of getting to the simple truth of emotion and allowing us to see ourselves in his characters while also providing a visual feast for the eye. It's amazing. I don't know why LePage chose to revisit Needles and Opium, a work he originally produced 20 years ago, I'm glad he did; I'm still bedazzled by it.
Needles and Opium is on at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. W.) until December 1. Tix are selling out (for real!) so get 'em while you can here.
By Lindsay Swanson
Heaven Above Heaven Below is an 80 minute conversation between two old friends, performed with an intimacy that leaves the audience feeling like an unnoticed bystander – or even, at times, a voyeur. With each additional moment of this performance, we learn more about the subjects as the details of their shared history are revealed.
The performance begins off-set with the sounds of a couple fumbling at the door of a hotel room. The couple – unnamed – enter the room and successfully pull off the awkwardness of recent-strangers in a hotel room, hesitant and unsure of what the rest of the evening holds. Except we soon learn that these are not strangers; they are ex-lovers from over 20 years ago. They have come back to the room – after the wedding of a common friend – to reconnect and talk; whether this is the sole intention of the rendezvous, the audience is never quite sure.
The portrayal of these two characters is real in its confusion and awkwardness. It could be the premise for the fourth film of the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series – the same familiarity of old friends mixed with the hesitance of ill-fated lovers. However, at times the dialogue seemed quite contrived and over-scripted - reminiscent of a "Dawson’s Creek" or "Gilmore Girls" script. On a few occasions the actors stumbled over their words – understandable for such a long, conversational script – yet I found these moments refreshing, as they provided a brief respite from the perfection of the dialogue.
Throughout the performance, we learn of the history of this couple; we learn that their relationship although short was not a simple young fling that ended with 20-something fizzle. The end of their relationship began (spoiler alert!) with an abortion that we learn was something they both wanted at the time. Regardless of each of their professed lack of regret, emotions seemed to have been repressed for both of them as they moved on with their lives. Their history has formed who they are today; it is woven into their thoughts, their actions, and the way they live their lives. It is a thought-provoking portrayal that elicits reflection on your own decisions and how they could surface in an inhibition-less conversation with an old friend.
Heaven Above Heaven Below is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave) until December 7.
For tix click here.
Wellesely Robertson III (his real name) is 50% of the cast in the much-anticipated Robert LePage show Needles and Opium (opening tomorrow at the Bluma Appel Theatre). He answered a few Q's about the show and what it's like to work with the incomparable Robert LePage.
1. Let's set the stage: can you tell us about who you play in Needles and Opium and what the character's relevance is to the show's plot?
Well the show focuses around "Robert", played by Marc Labrèche, loveless as he deals with a breakup, and his heartache as the main story. There are also two other stories that take place which help drive the emotion of the story. One is Jean Cocteau's view on the American society, the other is told through, and inspired by, the music of Miles Davis. That's where I come in. I'm giving life to that third storyline. My character takes the audience on an emotional journey. I believe it adds to the plot because it allows to the audience to connect with the story in a way that is very personal. Since my character doesn't speak and is influenced by the music, the audience is allowed to connect with the character on a level that is almost sensual.
2. This production of Needles and Opium features the same actor (Marc Labrèche) as the original production. What was it like working alongside an actor and director who were already familiar with the material (albeit somewhat new) and with each other?
I found it actually very comfortable, as this is my third project working Robert Lepage, so there was already familiarity with each other. Working with Marc has been a blast and watching him work, his timing, his delivery has been a pleasure. He is also very easy to work with, not to mention we laugh nonstop. I think the familiarity that we all had with each other helped drive the show.
3. I can only assume working with Robert Lepage is a phantasmagorical experience that dreams are made of. Can you shed some light on what it was like to be directed by him? (feel free to dispel my romantic notions. But be gentle.)
I would have to say this has been my most rewarding experience of the three projects we’ve collaborated on. One of the best lessons I learned was to be open to anything. During the creation process, some things that worked one day didn't always work the next, and with that we had to change, so there were days that the rehearsal process was a whirlwind. But in my experience although demanding, he had a lot of confidence in me. One of my most memorable experiences was when we were blocking a scene and Robert Lepage gave me a quick 5 minute mini-mime workshop. It was one of those experiences where I thought to myself, "there are people who would pay good money to get this experience". It was something that has stayed with me to this day. Also although demanding I found that he always had the utmost confidence in me.
4. In your opinion, how has the addition of your character changed what Needles and Opium is about?
I don't necessarily think the addition of the character has changed what the story is about. I think it has actually added to the story's aspects. The fact that my character's role is purely physical, I think lets the audience go on an emotional journey.
5. How has this production, and Lepage, challenged you as an actor?
Since my role is purely physical, I found that it has challenged me to connect with the audience on an emotional level. Also on a personal level it has challenged me to bring my own emotions onto stage. Since there is no text, I have to find ways to pull the emotions out of myself and the audience. As well as being true to the physicality of the role. Learning that the way I would move is not necessarily what would work for the story and/or the vision of the show. I enjoyed the fact that Robert Lepage gave me the freedom to explore movement to tell a story, yet at the same time keeping it in the confines of his own vision.
Needles and Opium opens Friday, November 22 and runs until December 1 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. W.) For tix click here.
By Stephanie Silva
Bodies violently flailing, rolling over backward, hitting the walls and moody darkness. This is the opening scene of The Sacrifice Zone and it immediately drew me in.
Set in a nameless northern industrial town, The Sacrifice Zone explores the sacrifices endured by plant employees in search of answers in the aftermath of a fatal explosion—yes, I too thought of Erin Brockovich. But I digress.
As is often the case with real-life industrial accidents, in The Sacrifice Zone, the company denies responsibility and offers the employees affected a generous settlement. It's made clear that if there were to be an external inquiry, the plant would surely close, putting everyone out of work.
Of the people killed in the explosion are Hannah's husband and his best friend Alex's wife (played by Michelle Polak and Joel Benson). Hannah and Alex boldly reject the payout, driven by the desire to do the right thing for their children and to unearth the truth. The sacrifice, however, is immense and (spoiler alert!) Alex's daughter is killed in a senseless bullying incident gone horribly wrong.
The production is incredibly physical and filled with moving imagery. In particular, the scenes in which characters discuss the rumoured cause of the explosion or gossip about Hannah and Alex's decision to initiate an inquest are accentuated by abrupt choreography that alludes to one's rejection of the truth; eyes, ears, mouths are covered in swift and powerful sweeps of motion and interject the dialogue.
There is also a secondary plot that unfolds alongside the first. This plotline traces a couple's falling in and out of love (played by Ciara Adams and Michael Spence). The two are torn apart by the stress of trying to reconcile their places in the explosion controversy and ethics surrounding the type of work undertaken at the plant.
There are more characters than actors in The Sacrifice Zone and this, at times, undercuts the believability of the actors in their primary roles. The production was also short on time and packed with storyline, which, especially in the love-gone-wrong plot, challenged character development: the couple went from sleeping together on the first date, to buying a house, to getting engaged, to splitting up when Spence's character becomes abusive and controlling, all in the course of what seemed like four short scenes.
But I was truly captivated by the actors' performances. The use of a minimalist set was very well done. With only a few plank-like structures to work with, the actors used them brilliantly in the rapidly changing scenes.
Although I found the production too fast paced for me, The Sacrifice Zone was a visual delight and succeeded in making me think about how far I might go to seek justice; what I might sacrifice if ever I was faced with such a situation. I think a big measure of a production's impact, success even, is whether members of the audience ponder the performance long after they've left the theatre (in the same way a good book stays with you). And I've been thinking about this play since I saw it on Thursday.
The Sacrifice Zone runs until November 30, 2013 at The Factory Studio Theatre. For tix click here.
By Jeff Johns
The Valley begins with two separate storylines. First we meet Sharon (Susan Coyne) and her 18-year old son, Connor, who is about to head off from Vancouver to Calgary for his first year of university. Then we are introduced to Vancouver police officer Dan, and his wife, Janie. Connor comes home on a holiday break acting erratically, complaining about his university roommate, and declaring to Sharon that he is “not going back”. After some discussion, it is agreed that he should take a break and stay home for a while. But for Connor, things do not improve.
Meanwhile, Dan and Janie are dealing with raising their recently born son. Janie, home all day caring for young Zeke, finds herself struggling with the burdens and isolation that new motherhood can bring, while Dan becomes increasingly exasperated at her struggles.
When Connor’s erratic behavior manifests itself while riding the Sky Train, patrolled that day by Dan and his partner, the two story lines collide.
The seating at the Tarragon Theatre is set up a bit like theatre in the round - the audience directly faces each other across the room, and we watched the play unfold in the middle of the room with no discernable “stage” at all. This result is a very intimate viewing experience, which was augmented by the placement of the players in moments when they were technically “off-stage”. Each of the four cast members acquitted themselves well, in particular, Coyne, who’s reminiscences (yes, that’s a word, I looked it up) of Connor as a boy were very touching.
The Valley seems to address three main issues:
· how the police engage with people with mental illness;
· how parents deal with a child developing a mental illness; and
- the vulnerability of new mothers to depression.
All of these are worthy topics, and I promise you, I was ready to be outraged and/or conflicted and/or heartbroken. But honestly, I ended up finding the whole thing a bit confusing. I mean, just like a physical illness, there is not one kind of mental illness. There are many types with many resultant behaviours. Yet what exactly is wrong with Connor is never identified. While his behavior initially seemed to me to indicate that he was developing schizophrenia, later the inference appears to be that he was suffering from depression (in my experience, two very different ailments). I could not get a handle on what was really supposed to be going on with him. And without that knowledge, I felt a bit lost in considering how each of the other character’s reacted as they were exposed to his illness. Overall, I got the feeling that the playwright opted not to delve too deeply into the various kinds of mental illness in order to not distract from, or dilute, the play's examination of police interaction with the "mentally ill". But in my mind, the fact that there are so many kinds of mental illness and behaviours, in respect of which we ask our first responders to enter blindly into a crisis situation and make the appropriate decisions, and in respect of which we ask those suffering from mental illness to trust that those first responders will keep them safe, is central to this issue. And so clarifying just what Conner was suffering from would have provided context to his symptoms, thus helping me appreciate the emotional responses of those around him, which to me, was the crux of the matter.
Conclusion: Regrettably…two 'go see its' out of five…
The Valley is on at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until December 15. For tix click here.
In the playwright's notes there's a claim that WINNERS AND LOSERS "emerged out of a desire to investigate how deeply competition is a part of everything we do". Be that as it may, this play is less about competition and more about how inaffective and glib passing judgement is, because the reality is always more complicated than a judgement allows for.
James Long and Marcus Youssef, two Vancouver-based actors, sit at a table and play a game of their own creation dubbed "Winners and Losers", where each proclaim that a certain person, place, thing or theory is a winner or a loser, and then they defend their perspective. It's a competition among friends, and it is all fun and games...until it gets personal. Long and Youssef ensure it does get personal by telling us intimate details of their own lives, and it soon becomes glaringly clear how their respective rearings as children-cum-adults have affected their individual life-philosophies: Youssef was raised in an affluent family and still has parental financial assistance to support big life ventures such as home-buying and car-buying. Long had more of a hard-knocks childhood and had to take care of himself from a young age. They're from opposite sides of the proverbal track and their lived-experiences have informed their psychology; so it's no surprise when this psychology occassionally differs.
This difference of opinion is what makes relationships with another person lively and three-dimensional, it is what makes debates interesting and, if listening happens, it's also where learning can occur. But in WINNERS AND LOSERS, this philosophical difference was grounds for grotesque judgemental attacks. Not only did Long and Youssef attack each other with what each perceived to be the other's main character flaw (Long is angry and Youssef is perpetually rich), they also attacked real life people, in an attempt to judge whether they were "winners or losers", in extremely troubling ways. For example, Long dubbed Sylvia Plath a "loser" because she killed herself after failing to "get happy". All of these black and white judgements were completely inaccurate because the person making the judgement has no fucking idea what they're talking about. Youssef had no idea what he was talking about when he judged Long's inability to have dealt with his lifelong anger towards his Father, and Long had no idea what he was talking about when he sadistically judged Youssef for being born into priviledge. And niether of them had any clue WHAT they were talking about when they judged China, Pamela Anderson, the city of Toronto or even Rob Ford.
But that's what we do. We judge things. All the time. And we never have any idea what we're talking about when we do it. We make assumptions about people all day every day and they're probably inaccurate 100% of the time because reality is infinitely complicated.
WINNERS AND LOSERS didn't make me think about competition at all. It made me think that we - me, you, everyone - need to spend more time minding our own business and even MORE time being kind to each other, because we all need the support.
I didn't love WINNERS AND LOSERS. I admire that the show and the actors took a theatrical risk, but it came across as preachy and self-indulgent. And unfortunately I can't get away from this judgement, even if I have no idea what I'm talking about.
WINNERS AND LOSERS is on at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) until December 8.
For tix, click here.