By Jeffrey Johns
THE ART OF BUILDING A BUNKER. Our main character – “Elvis” (and no, not Sonny Crockett’s alligator. Or Costello. Or any other famous Elvis’ that I can’t think of…) – has been sent to sensitivity training by his employer: pass the training, and he’s good; fail…and it’s the unemployment line.
Adam Lazarus plays the role of Elvis. And the instructor, Cam. And all his sensitivity class classmates. A gay fella. An Indian dude. A Chinese woman. A South African guy.
We follow Elvis through his training. And then home. Where he holes up in his basement. Which, spoiler alert, is a lot like a bunker. And while his wife, upstairs, cares for their baby. And then back to sensitivity training.
Elvis is scared of the world. Like really scared. And a racist. Like really racist. Like chicken-stealing racist. Can he hide these aspects of himself enough to pass his sensitivity class?
Look guys. I think this play looks at some super-important and super-topical issues. The role that fear plays in racism. And how corporate media outlets do their best to incite fear because it drives viewership/readership. And how politicians use code words to blow that racist dog-whistle as loud as they can to attract votes for the candidate who will keep you “safe”. While neither one gives any regard to the overall harm such practices do to our society. Their society.
And Racism in our world of heightened political correctness. No one says anything overtly racist, so racism is gone! Or is it maybe still there…and just hiding under the surface? Emerging only in moments of crisis. You know, like in anonymous YouTube comments from viewers of videos featuring people of colour. Or perhaps after yet another African-American fellow’s interaction with their local police department ends up suuuuuuuuper crappy.
But, personally, I found it hard to make the connection between Elvis’ fear and his racism. I didn’t get a “them” and “us” impression. Just kind of an “Elvis” and “everyone else” impression. Which made his character seem less racist and more mentally ill. Which to me kind of muddled things.
In sum, I think Adam Lazarus puts in an admirable performance, but I just couldn’t help being a little disappointed.
Two and a Half Stolen Churrasqueira Chickens out of Five!
THE ART OF BUILDING A BUNKER is on at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St. W.) until Nov. 2. For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
Concord Floral was a million square foot greenhouse property in Vaughan, Ontario and it is the true story of Concord Floral in its abandoned state that is the backdrop of Jordan Tannahill’s newest play, a modern re-invention of Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron".
The cast is a group of 10 teenagers. Teenagers playing teenagers, which is one of the many elements of authenticity in this production. The story opens with a girl walking through a dark field in her underwear – which foreshadows the suspenseful-urban-legend nature of the story. Each of the other 9 teenagers are story-telling contributors, however two girls are at the forefront – played by Jessica Monk and Erum Khan.
The abandoned greenhouse had become a teenage after-hours hang out. From small gatherings, to large parties, Concord Floral can accommodate it all. When two girls head into the greenhouse to smoke a joint, they stumble across a reality that they cannot escape – and one which continues to haunt Khan’s character. However, what starts out as a teenaged thriller, unravels as an equally terrifying portrayal of a modern day teenagers’ life.
The story crosses generations. Everyone can relate to that time – or two – when they made a bad teenage decision. One that had the potential to impact the rest of their lives – or at minimum, the rest of adolescence. Our teenage years help shape our adult selves, but is it always for the better? Is it true what does not kill you, makes you stronger? CONCORD FLORAL makes you wonder about the lasting impacts of poor teenaged behaviour.
The set design deserves a solid mention - it completes the performance with a multi-faceted square of astroturf and inventive lighting. The photography of each cast member – in their own teenage bedrooms – is an impressive touch, and one that adds to the authenticity of the performance. It's great.
CONCORD FLORAL is entertaining, visually seductive, and thought provoking.
CONCORD FLORAL is on at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W.) until For tix click here.
Until October 25th's bcurrent's 2nd annual afteRock Plays are on at Buddies In Bad Times.
First up is BROTHERHOOD: THE HIP HOPERA (video clip here), a one-man show written totally in rhyme and uses a melange of musical styles to give the audience an "immersive hip hop show experience" #Brohood promises to be a gritty, high-energy sensory overload. #soundsgood to me.
Next up is THE FEMME PLAYLIST (video clip here) by bcurrent writer in residence Catherine Hernandez who runs the gamut of experiences to unearth what is is to be a queer woman of colour. No topic is taboo in this #FemmePlaylist and Hernandez exemplifies all she speaks of.
Inspired by post-war film noir, HELEN LAWRENCE is a play within a film. Here's sort-of how it works: the actors are on stage, on a bare-bones, green-screen set, with three camera operators downstage of them, moving back and forth across the apron of the stage to catch all necessary and appropriate angles. The camera operators film the actors, and their images are projected on a transparent screen that also projects pre-filmed background images of rooms and buildings....so the actors are on a blank stage if you look at them ON stage...but if you watch the screen, they're acting against a backdrop of a realistic room. Make sense?
It's a bit of a head trip and it's very cool. The technical proficiency behind the creation of it, as well as the spot-on accuracy that the actors need to have for the show to succeed, is nothing short of amazing.
Here's an example: at one point two characters are in a scene on stage - this is a blank stage so from the live-action viewpoint they look like they're having a conversation in the middle of nowhere - but on screen, they're in a room with 4 walls and some props. A third character enters the scene momentarily by popping his head into the doorway, interrupts the pre-exisiting conversation, isn't welcome by the other two actors, and then leaves....pretty simple for a regular show. But in HELEN LAWRENCE, the third actor who casually pops his head into the "room" needs to hit his mark on a totally blank stage so that he's not only in the frame with the other actors on the film version, but he needs to be in the DOOR FRAME of the room he's entering into so that his 3 second entrance is consistent with what is already filmed. THAT SHIT IS PRECISE. And amazing.
It's really unlike any show I"ve ever seen before (except for Canadian Stage's production of TEAR THE CURTAIN in 2012), and for that alone it deserves to be seen. Director and creator, Stan Douglas pushes the boundaries of what's possible in a theatre and I love him for it. It's a truly fascinating experiment.
It's so fascinating that the visual innovation was the thing that kept my attention throughout the show when the story lacked the depth to make me care about much of anyone on stage (the characters of Helen Lawrence and Mary excluded from this statement). But my the respect for the work of the actors and for the visual feast in front of me, made up for the emotional shortcoming (usually my fav. thing about the theatre). Bottom line: HELEN LAWRENCE is a seriously inventive piece of theatre; get in the rush line and go. It's worth your time.
HELEN LAWRENCE is on at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.) until November 2. For tix click here.
Until October 19th Mirvish Productions is showcasing 2 shows from the Endinburgh Festival Fringe (annual theatre fest over 3 weeks in August in Scotland's fair capital city). They're boasting that it's the "best" of the Festival, but with thousands of shows mounted each Festival, I think it is nearly impossible to narrow it down to "the best" being two shows; "the best" being a subjective opinion anyway.
All to say - I was a skeptic going into these shows on Thursday night.
First up: JULIE MADLY DEEPLY, a cabaret, vaudevillian show about the incomparable Dame Julie Andrews. Written and performed by Julie-aficionado, Sarah-Louise Young, with full support from her musical accompanyist and Musical Director Michael Roulston. The show is part biography, part Andrews-worship, and part-improv. Let me be clear: I wanted to roll my eyes at this show. I wanted to be an elitist theatre snob and scoff at it because naturally my tastes are much more refined and I couldn't possibly enjoy this musical theatre low-brow pandering. But I couldn't. I loved it.
Young's talent is only outdone by her charm; she had the majority of the theatre hanging on her every word, 15 minutes into the show. She was fabulous. Young sounds, as much as anyone can, like Julie Andrews. Her voice isn't as robust, but whose is? She does a pretty damn good job attemping to fill Andrews' boots, and does an equally good job flipping from one character to the next. The direction for this show was innovative and very tight, and the chemistry between Young and Roulston was inspiring. From an educational perspective I learned only a bit more about Julie Andrews, than I did before, so if you're looking for an exploration into the Dame's life, you won't find it here. But it really doesn't matter - Young's enthusiasm is infectious and over the duration of the show, I was less interested in Julie and more in her.
The woman had almost an entire theatre of cynical adults participating in a sing-a-long of Andrews' greatest-hits. Anyone who can do that, deserves an A++ in my books.
Second showing: THE BOY WITH TAPE ON HIS FACE
Silent performer, Sam Wills is just that - a guy with tape on his face. It's over his mouth to be more precise. He's got some gags up his sleeve, but the real talent lies with the everyperson in the audience. Wills' show features HEAVY audience participation and those picked to go on stage sometimes have a lot asked of them with little instruction. But each time the individuals rose to the occasion (even when they didn't understand what was asked of them) and provided the best moments of the show. These non-performer laymen (and women) were props in WIlls' show but also the stars of it. I found myself wanting more of the moments where I could cheer on a stranger from the crowd, and less of Wills creating animated objects out of inanimate things.
Wills is funny - no doubt about that, and he recognizes the support and joy an audience can give when watching one of their own suddenly perform on stage - so he's smart too. His show just needs a bit more variety...or substance to bring the real 'wow' factor. But the guy who had to do a striptease on stage? And the 3 gents who had to do a dead simple dance routine and couldn't get it? Wow.
JULIE MADLY DEEPLY and THE BOY WITH TAPE ON HIS FACE are playing at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.) until October 19. For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
" the Blues is at the root of all music. The Blues was here since the world was born." - John Lee Hooker
For the last 15 years, Raoul Bhaneja has been searching for a way to tell the story of the Blues, as he knows it, without it being about him. However, his knowledge and understanding of the blues *is* about him - for it is his knowledge, his understanding, his perceptions of what the blues actually are that makes them " the blues". And his upbringing - his unique culture and background - have irrevocable impact on his own personal quest for his definition of the blues.
This story - a musical story but not at all a musical - is the story of Raoul's quest to define the blues. He is not the characteristic Blues Man: He is a first generation Canadian, born from Irish and Indian parents; this is not the makeup of a typical blues musician - but who is the typical blues musician? Must ones' history be of a certain storyline? Who, precisely, is warranted to sing the blues, and how do we decide what succeeds in it's conformity to this style of music? ... The same style of music that was originally defined to include all freedom of expression? Raoul's journey is personal one - recounting the experiences that he's had in life, both organically and as part of this musical life-quest. However, any lover of music could relate to his story regardless of background or personal experience, and the results of his quest.
Typically speaking, I am not a blues <wo>man. However I like music. And appreciate music. And I am acutely aware of my lack of talent in anything musical. Therefore, when people can get up on stage - especially the lovely one at Theatre Passe Muraille - and can come together to create such appealing and impressive music, I am envious. I am envious of their talent, but also the drive that motivates creative people to follow their passions. Everything about this performance can be summed up as "passion".
Divine Brown completes the passion/envy train that is this performance; I could listen to her lovely voice all day. The rest of the band was also great, but lacked some involvement that I can't put my finger on.
Overall, this is an incredibly unique theatre experience that I think any music lover will enjoy. It transcends theatre and converts itself into an authentic blues fest jam in a blink of an eye, in an easily digestible segment for the Blues Beginner. Senior Blues appreciators will wish the jam session continued into the night.
LIFE, DEATH AND THE BLUES is on at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave.) until October 19. For tix click here.
By Jeffrey Johns
Guys. This is a good one. Funny? Yep. Heavy? Uh-huh. Topical? You bet your booties. It's got a pretty sweet triumvirate of characteristics.
The play is based on the work of the same name written in 1882 by some dude named Ibsen. Ha, just kidding, I know Henrik Ibsen. Everybody does! Hard to forget some dude who lived with his wife Nora in a teeny tiny house (so small one might describe it as…A Doll’s House…? Zing! Right!? Right.). But notwithstanding that it’s based on a century old piece, the themes tackled by this show are top-op-op-op-ical!
Sigh Sadly! At the disillusionment of Thomas (Joe Cobden) the would-be whistle-blower as he discovers that every pat on the back is conditional and every apple he is offered by those in economic or political power, is rotten at the core!
Empathize! With him as those same people make it apparent just how economically vulnerable he is, and how little it would take for everything he, his wife, and his child have, to disappear!
Laugh! Even as it depresses you, at the all too familiar choice of words and phrasings by Peter (Rick Roberts), the town councilor, as he spins the findings of a report clearly showing toxins in the water supply, into a question of whether to take action that would economically devastate the town over an inconclusive and probably incorrect report!
Participate! As the show turns into a town council meeting with the audience as the town members!
Marvel! As the characters occasionally and to great effect write with pieces of chalk right on the walls of the set!
Groove! To the guitar playing of Billing (Brandon McGibbon) in Act I, at a band practice of Thomas and his friends!
I am told this show is based on a 2012 version of the show put on in Germany by Thomas Ostermeier. Whether this one is better or worse than that one, I can’t say. I mean, you think I’m pulling the kind of coin where I can just jet off to Berlin and go watch a play anytime I want? Because I don’t. I probably couldn’t even make it to a show in London. Ontario. Or Paris…also Ontario.
Anyways, kind of sad, but really great performances and great questions asked.
Four Go See Its out of Five!
THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE is on at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Brigman Ave.) until October 26. For tix click here.
By Lindsay Swanson
During the 18th century for its “country’s good”, Britain exiled its criminals to a new penal colony in Australia. The first ships carrying men and women – and their children – arrived to discover a world that they would likely never be able to leave. The convicts – whether petty thieves, prostitutes, or murderers – were exiled for the duration of their sentences, but were in most cases unable to afford a return trip to England once released. As such, this is the true story of of the birth of (white) Australia and of Britain’s history. However, it is also the true story of how the convicts and officers lived their lives within the penal colony – and how some convicts found a type of escape through putting on a play for the officers.
OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD tells the story of these first convicts, and the Officer that advocated for them as actors – and as people. The story is raw at times, which we are warned of in the program. The <strong> language and sexual references are true to the time period – but are nonetheless shocking while sitting in the posh Royal Alex theatre.
The first act of the performance introduces the audience to the characters and context. The story has a lot of work to do in setting the scene, while teaching a history lesson. However the first act was also the opportunity for character development that was critical for the second act - and the performance fell short on multiple instances. From relationships between actors/convicts to the romantic relationship between Mary and Officer Clark, the character development was too weak to fully realize the climax of the story in the second act.
That said, the characters did come alive in the second act. Since the foundation of the history lessons had been laid in the first act, the scenes in the second act were devoted to the actors/convicts, and their humorous road to theatre. Kathryn O’Reilly was phenomenal in her role as Liz Morden. She played the desperate and hardened convict with such conviction that her transformation to a beautiful rich aristocrat (as per her role in the play-within-the-play) was powerful.
OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD is a timeless story that has been around 25 years, and will surely be around for another 25. It is a performance that is historically significant, and embedded with humour. The right audience that appreciates the charm of traditional theatre will surely enjoy it.
OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD is on at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) until October 26. For tix click here.
By Stephanie Silva
After a very long week, for the most part void (sadly) of nonsense-induced giggles, I was very much looking forward to seeing Hart House's production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Not only did the play open Hart House's 2014/15 Season (a very exciting thing, unique to the fall and full of all that turning-over-a-new-leaf, new-season-fresh-start, hopeful mentality), but it also held the promise of, well, making me laugh.
And laugh I did.
I loved this play. While the success of this production is absolutely carried by the enduring wit of Wilde's dialogue, the cast do the script more than it's due justice. In true Hart House fashion, the audience was a fantastic mix of ages, and even the youngest of folks recognized the hilarity of the script, meaning it was well delivered by all.
I really enjoyed Brandon Kleiman's set designs. They were simple yet properly Victorian and captured the right tone for each act. The floral arrangements in act two were particularly impressive. Settees and little tête-à-tête vignettes made up the focal points for the sets, which worked perfectly, and especially so for one of my favourite scenes where Cecily and Gwendolen partake in two ladylike sit-offs.
Victor Pokinko's portrayal of Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff was brilliant! He was perfectly flamboyant and the delivery of his lines appeared effortless and natural. His timing was spot on. Michael Adam Hogan was equally brilliant as John (Jack) Worthing, and the chemistry between he and Pokinko was a pleasure to watch. The ladies of this tale were no exception. Eliza Martin's performance as Cecily Cardew was delightful and coy. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. In fact, both Martin and Pokinko's physicality was captivating and each infused their characters with depth and presence.
Hannah Drew's take on Gwendolen Fairfax was prim and proper. Her strongest scenes were those acted alongside Martin. They were very good together. For the most part, the male and female leads were best acted in scenes with just the boys and just the girls -- in addition to the great chemistry between the two sets of leads, I think this had much to so with Wilde's clever commentary on Victorian notions of courtship and gender norms and behaviours, which, funnily, are not terribly different than the way we behave today!
Lady Bracknell, acted by Nicole Wilson, made an appearance in only a few scenes and owned them all. Her overbearing presence was matched by her bulky, imposing costumes (this mirroring of character and costume was the case for all the leads and was very well done by designer Ming Wong).
Wilson delivered the scene in which Lady Bracknell grills Jack (then going by Earnest) about his personal habits, fortune, etc. -- to determine his eligibility -- perfectly. "I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should either know everything or nothing. Which do you know?" ". . . I do not approve of anything that tempers with natural ignorance."
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It was well-acted by the entire cast, all of whom obviously trusted in the guidance of their director. I think the play came together beautifully. This just might be my favourite Hart House production to date!
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is on at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until October 4. For tix click here.
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.