By Stephanie Silva
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is the third of Hart House's productions that I've seen in the last six months and I walk away more and more impressed every time I leave the theatre. Though I'm quickly becoming a Hart House regular (or so I'd like to think), this was the first production of GDGMJ I'd ever seen, which has made this review a real challenge to write because I can't stop thinking about the play as Ann-Marie MacDonald's—her commentary on female identity and it's representation in literature (and our interpretation of it) and how the issues MacDonald first explored in 1988 remain relevant issues today; not mention, her quick, quick wit and humour. But I won't bore you with my critical analysis and will instead stick to Carly Chamberlain's fantastic rendition of this important Canadian play.
GDGMJ centres on Constance and her quest for self-discovery. A struggling academic, Constance finds herself feeling defeated after her thesis is dismissed. Constance claims that Shakespeare’s plays Othello and Romeo & Juliet were intended as comedies, and would have been understood as such if it weren’t for the absence of the Wise Fool in each of the Bard’s works. In a hilarious scene, a frustrated Constance throws her thesis and a few random personal items (including her appendix, preserved in a jar) into a garbage bin and is very dramatically sucked into the bin herself, transported, first to Shakespeare’s Othello and then Romeo and Juliet. Between these two worlds, though at first unbeknownst to her, Constance adopts the role of the Wise Fool, taking the audience on an epic adventure where she alters the plots of each play and reverses the tragic outcomes for both Desdemona and Juliet.
Lesley Robertson’s embodiment of Constance is perfection. She carries the entire play with a consistent commitment to the character. From the awkwardly endearing way she sways, shuffles her feet and wrings her hands, to her on-point delivery of MacDonald's smart and funny dialogue, Robertson's performance is so, so good. It is easy to forget that she's acting; her portrayal is incredibly authentic.
The set is minimalist yet captures everything the audience needs to fully understand the story. Cleverly, Scott Penner blends the Elizabethan-era backdrop with a stark modern-day academic's office in the foreground. The plot moves between Constance's life and the worlds of Shakespeare's Othello and Romeo and Juliet seamlessly without one set change.
The stage effects used to transport Constance to and from Shakespeare's world merge the use of darkness, bright light and bold sound—this both impressed and surprised me. It was like nothing I've ever seen at Hart House before.
I'm seriously thinking about seeing this production again; it was that good. A story about personal identity, and how life puts us fully in control of forming our own (we are, after all, our own Wise Fools), Chamberlain's take on GDGMJ made me laugh and think about my own journey. Instead of handling life's challenges in defeat, I will now recognize the agency I have to change the course of things and know my worth. Constance taught me that.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is playing at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until March 8. For tix click here.
By Daniel Nyman
For anyone who doesn’t know who Daniel MacIvor is:
A) You need to get out and see more theatre; and
B) once you see his work, you will understand why he is one of contemporary Canadian theatre’s most celebrated theatre artists. A BEAUTIFUL VIEW was originally produced in 2005 by da da kamera, the company through which MacIvor presented and toured his work around the globe for almost 20 years. A decade later, Toronto based company, Volcano, in collaboration with Munich’s BeMe Theatre, are remounting the play at Toronto’s Factory Studio Theatre.
Like much of MacIvor’s work, A BEAUTIFUL VIEW serves as theatrical storytelling at its finest. The play centres on the relationship of two nameless women who meet under quirky circumstances in a camping store. The play follows the two women as they move through their lives, recalling the defining, re-defining and un-defining their relationship. Director, Ross Manson, takes a minimal approach to the production’s design, configuring the theatre with audiences on either side of the stage facing each other and using only handful of props. This choice of staging focuses attention on the performances of the two actors as they play out MacIvor’s thoughtful and often humourous narrative.
As the nameless women, Amy Rutherford and Becky Johnson do an excellent job creating both engaging performances, carrying the audience along from the meeting point of these seemingly different characters through to their discovery and exploration of a deep seated connectedness. MacIvor has written two very quirky almost eccentric characters, and Rutherford and Johnson successfully tread the line ensuring both the humour and humanity of the characters shine through and not simply falling into the realm of cartoonish portayals.
A BEAUTIFUL VIEW ends where it began: in a tent. Throughout the 65 minute play, there are occasional hints as to the inevitable conclusion of the storyline. Without giving the details away, the ending does feel a little harsh and contrived. That said, the strength of the play is in watching the relationship between Rutherford and Johnson evolve and grow, and the specific plot points function more as devises rather than being the focus of the play. To this extent, A BEAUTIFUL VIEW leaves the audience fulfilled, having journeyed with its characters to an inevitable and thoughtful conclusion.
A BEAUTIFUL VIEW is on at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.) until March 9, 2014. For tix click here.
What's better than watching teenage girls exercise their creativity and empower themselves through art? Very little.
In just under 16 hours you'll have another chance to see EMOTIONAL CREATURE on stage at Young People's Theatre. Written by Eve Ensler of V-day and "The Vagina Monologues" fame, EMOTIONAL CREATURE focuses on the teenage girl and her various lives around the world, where she's fat, she's dangerously thin, she's insecure, she's strong, she's scared, she's fierce, and she's traumatised. And she's real.
The joy of the show lies in the 13 actors on stage who are diverse and beautiful and fabulously raw. They totally rocked.
EMOTIONAL CREATURE will brighten your spirit - go see it Sunday, February 23 at 2pm at Young People's Theatre (165 Front St. E.) Don't worry, it's after the Olympic hockey game.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
In the late 1800s, George Bernard Shaw – then an emerging Irish playwright – began a correspondence with the English actress, Beatrice Stella Campbell – more commonly known by her married name, Mrs. Patrick Campbell (but also referred to as Stella). This correspondence continued for over 40 years.
The letters have formed the basis for the production CHER MENTEUR , a French version of the original play adaptation DEAR LIAR. CHER MENTEUR is the recital of the letters by GBS, played by Albert Millaire, and Stella, played by Louise Marleau. For the non-francophone audience, the production is subtitled.
The letters began with GBS’ intrigue of Stella – a young man trying to get a girl’s attention, and grew into a heated and passionate infatuation – of a man to his muse. To use the term “love affair” may be apropos of the letters given their date-stamps, however none of the letters indicate that any physical relationship blossomed. So, we can assume that this correspondence was pure in its innocence, relative to our modern day definition of “innocence”; but relative to the early 1900s, they were down-right scandalous – full of sultry passion, blended with the wit and intelligence of two well-versed individuals.
We get a sense of how scandalous this relationship would be percieved when it become obvious that the letters' existence causes GBS great concern for the pain and heartbreak they would in turn cause his wife, should they be exposed. That said, the letters continue until Stella’s death, in agreement that none of the letters from the now-infamous George Bernard Shaw will be sold by Stella for any profit (despite the fact that she was an elderly woman struggling to find roles to support herself).*
The familiarity between GBS and Stella is real and raw, despite the genteel prose of the early 20th century. Millaire and Marleau are superb in their roles – as their recital of the letters soon transforms into real time. GBS and Stella become familiar – not just to each other, but to the audience as well. Millarie and Marleau become GBS and Stella – so much so that it was an upset to not see Millaire’s face in Google’s search results of “George Bernard Shaw”. But that is what good acting does: it transports you to another time, and allows the actor to rewrite history for the audience. (Wasn’t there some story about a post-"Braveheart" statue of William Wallace bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mel Gibson?)
Despite the drastic differences of the letters’ time period compared to present day over a century later, some things are constant – the written word, regardless of medium, is powerful and intimate. If you have experienced the intimacy of a developing relationship – via email, text, social media, or if you remain a traditionalist: handwritten letters – you will surely appreciate this story. Similarly, if you have a proclivity for sophisticated wit, you will enjoy the sharp-tongued dialogue.
* There are rumours that GBS’ 45+ year marriage to Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and political activist, was never consummated – at Charlotte’s insistence. GBS was also rumoured to have had multiple affairs with married women.
Theatre francaise's CHER MENTEUR (Dear Liar) is on until March 1 at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
In A SOLDIER'S TALE, Michael Greyeyes attempts to link the effects of war on soldiers, their communities, and the society of people living within the war, left to deal with the aftermath.
The production is broken into two acts – the first set during World War II, and based in small town Saskatchewan; and the second act is set 50 years later in the Iraq desert. What is interesting about these stories, however, is how Greyeyes has focused on the forgotten soldiers – the soldier stories that were not teaming with honour, or national pride. These are the stories that were not talked about – most certainly not during the WWII era.
A SOLDIER'S TALE is a contemporary and interpretive dance production. At times it is not the most seductive or attractive of dance numbers, but it is certainly impressive. As someone who is not well-versed in contemporary dance, I did find the dance numbers long and challenging to decipher in interpretation, however the Company’s talent and the masterful direction is undeniable.
There are so many elements to this production that are pulled from pages that have been left buried for years, and generations. While it is not a secret that soldiers – from any war, any time – faced challenges adjusting to life back home, there are elements – details – that were not discussed, particularly during the WWII era. A SOLDIER'S TALE brings these hidden secrets to the foreground, and attempts to demonstrate how the shrapnel of these secrets impacts everyone they touch.
The production is heavy. Extremely heavy. And the overall effect of the contemporary dance, multimedia, and live music/chanting may leave your head spinning. (I am still reeling from the second act).
However, if you are a fan of contemporary dance, this is a must-see; if you are up for a heavy representation of war, and all the terrible things that come from it, go check out A SOLDIER'S TALE at the Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West) for one remaining night, Friday February 22. For tix click here!
By Lindsay L. Swanson
No one puts Arrabal in the corner.
In the musical-dance community, ARRABAL is sure to become as classic a story as "Dirty Dancing".
But the similarities of the stories end with the steamy dancing. ARRABAL is a story of political unrest in Argentina, murder and the search for closure for a mourning family.
The story is told almost solely through live instrumental music and latin dancing, and, although there were a few moments where the adoption of a non-verbal narrative left me a little puzzled as to what exactly was happening, such moments were rare. More often than not, the use of dance and music as the storyteller produced moments of heartbreaking poignancy that a traditional dialogue would be hard-pressed to equal. The production also makes use of an impressive multi-media providing enough historical reference to set the scene for the subsequent word-less script, all presented by an extremely talented dance ensemble company.
The story begins in 1979, as we meet Rodolfo, a young man fighting against the brutal dictator of Argentina, General Jorge Rafael Videla. Rodolfo soon disappears from his family – including his baby daughter – at the hands of Videla’s goons. Rodolfo has become one of the thousands of protestors that vanished under Videla’s rule.
The story then flashes forward 18 years, when we meet Arrabal – the young beautiful daughter of Rodolfo who meets the spirit of father during a dream. Arrabal is lead to Buenos Aires by her father’s spirit, where she is both challenged by the big city – a coming-of-age story – as well as challenged to solve the mystery of what happened to her father.
Despite not being familiar with Argentina’s history, or Videla’s role therein, this production is so well done that it transports you to another place and time – and into the passion of the story’s characters. The dancing is superb – and beyond sensual.
It’s a modern and sexy adaptation of a somber story from years passed, and it does well in each theme: from the heavy and powerful multi-media montage of all the missing protestors – and the mourning mothers left behind; to the fun and casual audience-interaction, including on-stage ‘cabaret’ seating and pre-show tango lessons. Overall, it is an entertaining night of dancing, while taking in some culture and history.
ARRABAL is on at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.) until March 2. For tix click here.
METAMORPHOSIS a play adapted from Franz Kafka's novella of alienation, prejudice and the limits of love, is currently playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. If you want a feel-good story, this is not your bag, however if you're looking for artistic inspiration, this is definitely pour vouz.
Kafka's story isn't sunny: Gregor, the son and sole proprieter of his family, wakes up one day and he is transformed into a giant insect. Repulsive and disgusting to his family, he stays in his room while his sister tries to care for him and his parents figure out how to make ends meet. But as time progresses, Gregor is a burden to his family and they resent it. He is neglected and misunderstood until a tragedy of errors culminates in (spoiler alert!), Gregor's death. His famly is relieved and happy, and they make plans for their wonderful life without him. It's no Neil Simon.
However I was thrilled to bits watching this show. I don't know about you, but I feel unrelentingly joyful when I'm experiencing fabulous art. When I'm watching something that is really fabulous and really challenging and it's going so very well, I feel pure joy at the mere occurance of the it. This feeling happened during METAMORPHOSIS and the bulk of the credit goes to Bjorn Thors who plays Gregor. Thors was AMAZING. His embodiment of an insect was physically demanding, and emotionally exhausting and he was in it to win it 100% of the time. I couldn't take my eyes off him and the completely lit up the stage. He definitely raised the bar for what an actor is capable of on a theatre stage. To be fair, Thors was supported by an equally excellent cast, a creative set-design and very tight direction. The entire production is top-notch and even if you're into the happy-endings, you may still find your joy here.
METAMORPHOSIS is on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) until March. 9. For tix click here.
FREE OUTGOING is a hugely relevent play.
Set in India, a young girl gets caught up in a sexual act and the evidence is texted and emailed for most of the country to see. With this act, she is shamed, she is disgraced and she, single-handedly, brings about the near-ruin of her family. It's an excellent example of the trouble technology can bring when it crashes up against traditional values, how prejudice can destroy everything it touches and how teenagers, girls especially, aren't free to make anonymous, adolescent mistakes anymore because a mobile video device is almost always watching. Recent news headlines were ringing in my ears - stories of evaporated innocence and of such abject humilitaiton that lives are lost - either at the hands of the victim or by a family member in the name of "honour." I can't look away from these stories and always find them devestating.
I didnt find the same devestation within FREE OUTGOING. There were moments of tension - insinuations of an "honour" killing, a family's senseless eviction from their home, a mother set to give her daughter away - but mostly I was distanced from the story by over-the-top performances.
The hugely talented Anusree Roy is the Mother in this story and while she starts strong, her character dissolves into almost illogically clownish hysterics in every scene. Yes her character is in a vulnerable position and desperation would be a paramount emotion, but her shouting and eye-bulges were frequent and so they lost their effect. Her son, played by Andrew Lawrie is angry. Full stop. Always. Even when he's protecting his sister. Ancillary characters added a few great and nuanced performances but becuase much of the play revolves around Roy and Lawrie, it was hard to feel engaged and believe them, so, unfortuantely, much of the story's affect was lost on me.
FREE OUTGOING asks poignant and probing questions about gender equality, forgiveness and love, and like a good play, it doesn't offer any concrete answers, and so the audience must fend for itself.
Unfortunately, I felt like the actors were left to do that as well.
FREE OUTGOING is playing at the Factory Theatre mainspace (125 Bathurst St.) until February 16. For tix click here.
By Lindsay Swanson
In true Soulpepper fashion, IDIOT'S DELIGHT offers up a tight production of impeccable acting, lovely musical numbers, and perfect choreography around a beautiful set.
IDIOT'S DELIGHT, written by Robert Sherwood in 1936, is the story of how a collection of characters becomes intertwined over a short stay at a once-bustling hotel in the Italian Alps. However, this is not a story of vacation; this group has been brought together at the hotel as a temporary stop during their respective journeys across Europe. Trains have been delayed and borders have been temporarily closed, and the group find refuge – and drinks, and dancing – at the centrally-located hotel. The world is on the brink of war, and from the vantage point of the hotel – and its mountaintop view of 4 different countries – this reality is undeniable as the onlookers watch the bombers fly in and out of the airstrip below.
With a little history lesson, Robert Sherwood’s play becomes more impressive – and poignant – as the play was actually written years in advance of the eerily foreshadowed events of World War II. The perspectives are kept vague –as allegiances are not the point of this production. Instead, the play emphasizes the common fear and confusion brought on by war – regardless of nationality or religion.
The cast of characters is talented – and well positioned for a comedy of misadventures. Unfortunately, the play does not call upon the comedic talents that this ensemble could offer, as much as it should. Instead, the play takes a very heavy and awkwardly dramatic position in the second half, where I was hoping for a comedic climax similar to that of other Soulpepper productions, such as PARFUMERIE. Yes, it’s set during a world war, but the play is ready for a lightheartedness that offsets the circumstance – and the cast was ready to deliver it.
The perfect performance of Evan Buliung, as the clumsy and loveable waiter Duntsy, is a prime example of an underused character in this play. Buliung’s spot-on timing, gestures and delivery in his portrayal of a humble family man caught up in events over which he has no control left me simultaneously laughing and heartbroken.
In contrast, I felt at-times-uncomfortable with the chauvinistic humour espoused by the performance’s lead character, Harry Van, played by Dan Chameroy. And with the portrayal of each member of his all-woman entertainment troupe as possessed of an intelligence level barely above being able to feed themselves. Although I can appreciate that the play is a period piece, and certain views and behaviours may have been the reality at that time, the script could have highlighted these antiquated views as a curious reflection on years past (as "Mad Men" so successfully does). Instead, the performance chose to play the offensive jokes off as current day humour.
In the end, the play attempts to reveal Harry as a softer, romantic gentleman, but by then it is too late. His character is too unlikeable to be believable as a lovesick romantic, and unfortunately the character development between Harry and Irene (played by Raquel Duffy) is lacking.
Despite this, IDIOT'S DELIGHT is just that; a delight on the eyes and ears, and is the perfect play for a mature theatre aficionado, particularly one of the WWII era.
IDIOT'S DELIGHT is on at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until . For tix click here.
I never saw Riverdance, but I always wanted to know what all the fuss was about. After seeing HEARTBEAT OF HOME, a show by the same producers who made Michael Flatley a household name, I'm QUITE sure, I get it now; the dancers were off the bloody charts amazing.
The Meyerholdian precision of the Irish step dancers was completely unbelievable and totally breathtaking. There were no flaws to be seen. Anywhere. Ever. The feet were fast, the leaps were high and the smiles never left their faces. The high-energy numbers were the showstoppers of course; watching their feet fly was something I never tired of, and from the looks on their faces, my fellow audience members were just as riveted as I was. They honestly blew the roof off the place.
Although the Irish steppers were the dominant force of the show, HEARTBEAT OF HOME also features other styles of dance - Afro-Cuban, Flamenco and Latin - and each sect were also phenom. They were graceful yet gritty, strong yet delicate and they all looked really, really good (those hips don't lie).
Everyone looked so good I could almost mentally block the digital projections that were constantly moving behind each dance scene - projections that were not nearly as intelligent as the talent ON the actual stage and so seemed out of place and amateur. It's shocking that anyone thought they were a good idea. I say this with one notable exception, and it is the very cool, very creative all-male dance sequence that integrated the digital backdrop into the dance number so that it actually enhanced the choreography. This was outstanding.
HEARTBEAT FROM HOME's claim to fame should be the brilliant talent of it's performers. They are stunning and I felt privileged to watch such talent. It is almost criminal that the producers tried to dress them up with spectacle.
Go for the dance. You'll love it.
HEARTBEAT OF HOME is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.) until March 2. For tix, click here.