By Amos Crawley
FACTS written and directed by Arthur Milner, has high aspirations indeed. In his notes Milner claims that he hopes that the play “in some small way, helps Palestinians get what they need and deserve.” To that end he has his characters Yossi and Khalid, an atheistic Zionist and a religious Muslim who are investigating the murder of an American archaeologist on the West Bank, discuss all manner of history, concepts of faith, and politics. We also hear from their main suspect, intolerant fundamentalist Zionist Danny, whose firm belief that the state of Israel is a gift from his God to his people is unshakeable.
Milner’s play is in many ways fascinating; the torrent of information thrown at the audience displays amazing intellectual capacity and obvious examination and exhaustive research on his part. What’s missing then is the sense that the play is more than just the facts. Theatrically Milner doesn’t take as much advantage of his talented cast (Richard Greenblatt, Sam Kalilieh and Alex Poch-Godin) as he could. The staging is basic to the point of being mostly static and he has all of his actors speed through the dialogue so quickly that those of us who are perhaps not as informed as we should be about the Middle East can easily get lost. A shame, because information aside Facts could work very well as the murder mystery it purports to be. All the necessary elements are in place and it is when Yossi and Khalid are tracking down their killer, discussing possible motives, searching for evidence that the play is at its most alive.
Perhaps with the upcoming Arabic touring production, FACTS can become a powerful piece of Theatre as well as a polemic.
By Amos Crawley
We are treading dangerous waters here folks. There are few things that I believe in more than the importance of fostering an interest in the performance arts among young people. Frankly one of the ways to ensure that theatre will be a viable form in years to come is projects like Artists Mentoring Youth (AMY.)
The AMY Project builds the leadership, confidence, and unique voice of young women in Toronto by providing them with performance training, connections to artistic mentors, experience working in a professional theatre, and support towards the early growth of their careers. It’s noble, important work and I support it fully.
The goal of projects like AMY should perhaps not be actual presentation of work. For one thing, after seeing DERAILED, I am not convinced that the majority of performers were ready to be on stage, nor was the dramaturgy of the show sufficient enough to keep it interesting for a full hour (though there were some nice sequences.) But also, and perhaps more importantly, does the focus on presentation not rob those involved of the more edifying experience of exploring their voices with no constraints?
It is said that it takes decades to make an actor (or writer or director or, or, or.) If that is the case, then the seed of creativity being sewn by the AMY Project will reap extraordinary results down the line, but only given the proper time and care.
By Amos Crawley
Wallace Shawn’s THE FEVER is a true masterpiece of social commentary. The one person show, here performed formidably by Katie Swift, tells the story of an upper middle class denizen of New York, who undergoing a crisis of conscious, travels to several unnamed “poor countries” many of which are in the midst of violent revolutions.
The wonder of what the play accomplishes is that Shawn refuses to console us. We are not meant to feel that our awareness, even our ostensible condemnation of the hypocrisy of Western society’s myriad of indulgences in any way extricates us from being culpable. As our narrator tells us, if we truly refused to continue fetishizing commodity, we would be forced to change our entire way of living. In a strange and guilt-inducing bait and switch, the audience actively roots against our narrator becoming a true agent for change because we care about her and don’t want to see her suffer as the unnamed and unseen poor of the world do.
In this production Swift and director Rose Plotek let the play speak for itself with minimal interference. It’s as if they have decided that a bitter pill is best swallowed with nothing to wash it down. Swift’s carefully calibrated performance is quietly relentless as if the knowledge of how shallow she is has shut something in her down—a razor vulnerability just visible beneath the surface.
By Amos Crawley
Invitations/Into/Traces is the invention of performer Cara Spooner. It’s not quite a dance piece, nor performance art nor theatre in the strictest sense. Invitation is an experiment in performance as creation, where the subjective experience of the audience is the integral element. Spooner does perform, but her performance would be impossible without us, as everything she does takes its inspiration from what is happening in the room. Theatre is always a shared experience, a temporal art form, but rarely is that relationship made explicit.
Added to the mix of Spooner’s leading role and the audience as supporting cast (in a literal sense occasionally as she uses our bodies as part of her dance), are the comings and goings of the somewhat bewildered guests of the Gladstone Hotel, who stumble upon the performance on route to their rooms, often with hilarious results.
Invitations/Into/Traces is a thoroughly unique and enjoyable piece and special kudos must go to Spooner and her collaborators for conducting the experiment in a most unpretentious manner, the entire evening approached with a true sense of joy.
by Amos Crawley
Before going to see Amiri Baraka’s 1964 play THE DUTCHMAN directed by Sabryn Rock, I got into a number of discussions, both with people who’d seen the show and those who hadn’t, about whether or not the show was dated. Surely, we wanted to say, in 2012 the concept of interracial coupling is no longer a hot button issue.
Frankly I’m not convinced that outside of densely populated urban areas like downtown Toronto, the idea of a black man and a white woman being together is wholly acceptable: it’s still a sad, scared and uncomfortable world to live in.
Ironically what makes THE DUTCHMAN feel dated is not the subject matter of race relations. It’s the play’s concept of femininity. Lula, the young white woman on the bus, comes from a very 1960s tradition of the off balance seductress. She is woman, hear her roar—as... well as laugh, cry, exclaim, pout and generally be nutty. Baraka’s writing doesn’t give her much to do outside of being a cipher for certain ideas and rather blatant metaphors (she begins the play by offering Clay an apple.) It’s too bad that a play that has so much to say about the state of being a minority in North America also has little to say about being a woman, other than a variation on the idea that “bitches are crazy”.
Rock and the cast (Peyson Rock and Sascha Cole) though do an excellent job—the performances are nuanced and committed and the staging takes full advantage of the bus on which the show is performed. It’s saying something that we do leave wishing the world was a better place, not only for every race, creed and colour, but for the genders as well.
by Amos Crawley
It’s a funny thought that The Troubles in Northern Ireland only really came to a close in very recent memory. Much like the fall of the Berlin Wall, most of you reading this website were probably not only alive, but perhaps even cognizant of the happenings that were shaping our world.
It is in this recent history that Anthony MacMahon’s fine play THE FRENZY OF QUEEN MAEVE is set. Aisling is a woman sitting in a bar in Galway who relates to us her very personal story of growing up, coming of age and falling in love in Belfast in the early 1980s. The role is a showcase for Ewa Wolniczek who doesn’t waste a moment in a natural and nuanced performance. Aisling is the personification of the conflict at the heart of the Troubles. She’s in love with both an Englishman (James Aaron) and an IRA soldier (Giacomo Gianniotti.)
It’s tempting early in the play to argue that her problem is also the solution to The Troubles themselves. Ideals aren’t physical and as she describes the sensual pleasures she’s had at the hands of both men, you think to yourself that the physical (read sexual, read romantic) will solve everything. Of course nothing is ever so simple. Real love-- for another person, for a country, for an ideal—always carries with it the possibility of danger, of destroying someone. It is to the play’s credit that it offers no solutions but leaves the question dangling—the tragedy of a love triangle, or a violent battle, is that sometimes both sides have our sympathy. And even worse: whoever is stuck in the middle always does.
The play is ably directed and very well written, though occasionally we feel that Fionn the IRA soldier has a little more of the author’s support than his British counterpart. Its simple set is effective, though the lighting leaves actors in the shadows more often than it should.
Overall, THE FRENZY OF QUEEN MAEVE is an excellent addition to this year’s SummerWorks and it introduces to this reviewer a formidable playwright’s voice.
THE FRENZY OF QUEEN MAEVE has one more show at The Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington Ave.) on Sun, Aug. 19 @12pm. For tix call: 416-915-6747 or click here.
by Amos Crawley
There are fewer clear harbingers that bad things are going to happen to a character than to have her begin a play with a rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
The show does not disappoint on that front. Moments after we hear her sing, our unnamed girl (Laura Nordin who in an impressive performance manages to embody a young woman, not quite yet out of childhood without resorting to the kind of clichéd “watch me be a kid” work that can be an easy trap for an actor) is separated from her family, shot and then taken hostage by a violent if stoic older woman played by Margaret Evans.
The choice of Stephen Foster is an apt one. Foster has been widely accused of exploiting local musicians across North America by copyrighting and publishing their traditional folk songs as his own. The concept of exploitation is central in FIERCE MONSTERS, be it the exploitation of the Natives of B.C. by the white man stealing their land, the exploitation of a daughter by her father, or the sexual exploitation that all women in a rough and ready cowboy town are likely to be threatened with. Representing the latter is a strong performance by Gordon S. Miller as a miner who can barely contain his glee when he stumbles upon the two women hiding out during a firefight between the mining camp and the local tribes. Exploitation-- as opposed to its more violent counterpart Oppression-- is easy, and as Evans states: “Easy roads lead to destruction.”
FIERCE MONSTERS is a smart and surprisingly funny piece, with strong ensemble work, though I wish that the gunfight at the open of the play had packed more of a bang. We do settle into a nice rhythm with the two women at the centre of the show and we sympathize with their journeys, but before we get there, director Jody Hewston could have had a little more fun with the pacing, energy and underlying menace of a Western.
All in all though, FIERCE MONSTERS is a strong and fascinating show that not only puts a unique and important feminine spin on the Western, but ably takes advantage of the genre’s enduring use as a metaphor for the dangers of using “civilization” as an excuse for brutality and the moral differences of codes versus manners.
FIERCE MONSTERS has one more show at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington Ave):
Sun, Aug. 19 @2:30pm. For tix call: 416-915-6747 or click here.
Suffering a mental collapse after witnessing an act of horrific violence, Violet is trying to put her life back together. But it's not working very well.
Supported by her family and counsellor who all possess the patience of saints, Violet passes through psychotic moments and battles her demons to fight to get back to a place where she can, once again, just "be Violet".
But anyone can tell, even her ever-hopeful Mother, that Violet is not getting better any time soon.
Such is the life of mental illness; where each road to recovery can be slow and more havoc-wreaking than anyone can possibly understand, unless, of course, they've experienced it themselves.
There is no fast-track to health, no quick perscription that is proven to work and no concrete prognosis of when anything will go back to how it was 'before'.
This is what VIOLENT BY VIOLET illustrates painfully well.
Watching Violet's family navigate their way around Violet's illness is heart-wrenching; their love is almost indicative of their failure to help her. And watching Violet yearn for what could be is like watching a child lost in a mall; all they want is to find their way home again.
For a first time playwright, Tanisha Taitt, who also plays the character of Violet, should be extremely proud of herself. And even though I know Tanisha (full disclosure!), my most unbiased self thought the moments of poetry that are scattered throughout the script added a real beauty to the writing that's unique to most modern plays and added a depth and breadth of emotion that's not easy to come by.
Obsidian Theatre's Philip Akin directs and, here, he does what Philip Akin always does, and that's provide insightful and clear direction so the story is told in the best possible way. Amen to that.
You have ONE more chance to catch this show and I really hope you do.
VIOLENT BE VIOLET is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave) on Sun, Aug. 19 @10pm.
For tix call: 416-915-6747 or click here.
An EXHAUSTING one-man show (exhausting for the 'one man' not for an audience), EXTINCTION SONG is about a boy recounting his days, his human family's reactions to his behaviour, and his previous few years as a wolf.
If it weren't for the high-energy, commitment and fun (seemingly) that Ron Pederson were having on stage as James, the boy looking for moreout of life, this play could have been very different. And not in a good way. But Pederson's got TALENT yo, and he's not afraid to use it.
If you've ever seen him flex his mad-improv muscles during a "National Theatre of the World" show, then you know he's capable of spur-of-the-moment genius, but here he plays a 7-year-old boy who speaks in an excited mile-a-minute cadance while he jumps on his bed and crawls on his furniture. He also plays the other characters in the show, flipping from a child's personification to an intoxicated adult red-neck, like the flip of a switch. He has to remember 75 minutes worth of dialogue and requisite staging that goes alog with it; all very different from an improv show.
It's incredible performance matched with great directing from Ron Jenkins. Pederson is constantly in motion (as most 7-year-old boys are) but his movements never seemed without purpose or to be in excess.
EXTINCTION SONG was one of the plays in my SummerWorks line-up that I picked mostly at random.
I love it when theatre risks pay off.
EXTINCTION SONG has 3 more shows at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave.).
Fri, Aug. 17 @8pm; Sat, Aug. 18 @5:30; Sun, Aug. 19 @12:30pm.
For tix call: 416-915-6747 or click here.
Photo by Iner Souster
Presented by Kitchenband, a collective of Toronto theatre artists who want to tell stories that "blur the tlines between theatre, live music and visual art", PETRICHOR is a charming play about a mennonite family working on a farm during a drought. Of course t's much more than that but I'm hesitant to give too much away as part of my audience-member-fun came from not know what was to happen next.
And yes the play is much more interesting than this picture makes it seem.
Equipped with mostly homemade (yet innovative) instruments that take up at least 50% of the stage, the actors flow seamlessly between their role within the story, to their role within the band and all of the action seems like a natural progression of the narrative. I didn't question the validity of any of it and I was more than content to listen.
The entire cast is fabulous with special kudos going to Monica Dotter who anchors the story and makes us care.
Athough PETRICHOR's got drama and conflict but there's still an overarching sense of country simpleness to the show that is refreshing, pleasant and warms the cockles of the theatrical sensibiliites.
This was a new theatre-going experience for me and one that stood out if PETRICHOR is indicative of what Kitchenband is all about, then I like where this is going.
PETRICHOR has 3 more shows at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
Tonight! Fri, Aug. 17 @7:30pm ; Sat, Aug. 18 @12pm; Sun, Aug 19 @7:30pm.
For tix call: 416-915-6747 or click here.