Saturday, April 30, 2016

Too much of a good thing?

A busy calendar led me to reschedule three Mirvish subscription plays so they all landed in April. Chance had me attending five plays in one month, two of them on consecutive evenings. I love the theatre for the questions it can provoke, but still felt this was a bit of a binge. Overall the question became, "Is this too much of a good thing?"

Judas Kiss /Mirvish

When I read The Profundis last year it gave me a new appreciation for the life of Oscar Wilde, and the heavy penalties he suffered because of some of his life choices. It wasn't his homosexuality but misguided love. Oscar was the one who brought the libel suit to court that would eventually be the ruin to his finances and reputation. He also knew he could have left London for Paris or Italy and escaped a prison sentence, but he chose to stay. He knew he was too old to be chasing young men, and he may also have known in his heart that his lover Bosie wasn't worthy of so many sacrifices. He knew, but still persisted.

In so many stories these days the sex and nudity seems a bit gratuitous, but in The Judas Kiss, they were used with great impact. In the opening scene, two naked bodies in the act of love literally set the stage for the story. Later, a fully naked male struts his stuff to stir admiration and appetite. These scenes were perfectly placed to remind us of how basic instincts so often out-trump reason.

Rupert Everett was 'born to be Wild' as the critics said. All the performances were extraordinary and memorable. Even the smaller walk-ons had profound impact. Excellent!

If/Then /Mirvish

This was the first musical I've been to where I loathed the score, thought the story was cliche, but still left loving the play.

It was due to the premise, that despite your path, life's highs and lows find us all. Events may shift but your true destiny is always underfoot. You're not always missing out on something just because you really can't have everything.

The show depicts how different the life of the heroine would be if smaller choices had been differently made: lingering to listen to a song in the park, ignoring the phone when it rings with an important call. In this play unremarkable choices led to meeting a life partner or meeting a man that would lead to her dream job.  We watch seemingly different lives and realize they aren't that different after all.

I didn't much like the music in this musical. The songs were belted out relentlessly and the lyrics incredibly uninspired. Actually, there was one exception..."What the Fuck," the lyric so incongruous against the wholesome melody.

The potential in the heroine's lives is granted by men, and that didn't really sit well with me, until I looked at it as more of an allegory for how lives and dependencies generally entwine. The choices we make impact other lives. And so on (and so on).

Chimerica /Can Stage 

I went into the theatre with mistaken impressions that the play was Canadian, that it was a debut, and that it was experimental. Wrong on all counts. Chimerica was written by a British dramatist, debuted in London and then traveled to the U.S. and then to Winnipeg before coming to Toronto. The narrative carried the momentum of a strong current. This wasn’t an uplifting story with a saccharine ending but a fascinating one punctuated with insights, touches of humour and tenderness. I didn’t feel futility upon leaving the theatre, but a desire to know more about historical and current events. The performances were all strong, and as actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee was taking his bows, tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Set in the United States and China, and pivoting between the past and present, the set design played an essential role. The entire stage swivelled between continents while projected images quickly oriented the audience to the time and place. Doors led between two worlds, a thin divide, as the modern-day journalist tries to track down Tank Man, the heroic figure that stood in front of a line of advancing tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Don Giovanni /Opera by Request 

Opera by Request performed Mozart's Don Giovanni at College St. United Church. I have only seen one other opera from beginning to end, the Barber of Seville, by the Canadian Opera company, and that one was fully staged. Opera by Request was a humbler production, sans full costumes and sets. Thankfully there were surtitles to help follow along with the story, which is based on the legends of Don Juan. 

At one point, Leporello, the nobleman's servant, warns one love-sick victim Don Juan is keeps a tally of conquests, with 10,000+ names, or 1,003 (uno mil y tres) in Spain alone. This production played the story with a touch of irony in the beginning, but as the plot progressed things seemed less funny. Maybe it was because the opera was staged in a United Church, with stained glass windows in the background, but by the end, when an unrepentant Don Giovanni is escorted by a murdered soul into a fiery hell, the characters and audience are celebrating.

Gaslight /Mirvish

I saw this psychological thriller in February, and it was a perfect "evening out" in a dreary month.

The play premiered on the London stage in 1938 and was adapted to film in 1944. Gaslight tells the story of a housebound wife who believes she is going insane, until a retired detective arrives unannounced to solve a mystery. Even though I already knew the story through the Ingrid Bergman movie, it was still fascinating to watch. 

Overall, a great production. It also starred two actors from the highly popular Game of Thrones TV series, Owen Teale and Ian MacElhinney.

The success of Kinky Boots bumped Gaslight to the Mirvish Theatre, a large venue intended for musical specticals, and actually too large for a production intended for a more intimate stage. The set designer had some work to do:

“Although officially retired, Peter (Smith) has come to our rescue with an ingenious means of creating a 1,384-seat playhouse that can function inside the 2,300-seat Ed Mirvish Theatre.
“Peter has taken the techniques and art of scenic design and transported them from the stage to the audience. He has designed 40-foot-tall decorative walls — essentially scenic flats —  that will make the Ed Mirvish Theatre much narrower and bring the audience closer to the stage. He has also narrowed the width of the stage, from 50 feet to 38 feet.

“We jokingly call it, ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Theatre.” But that’s exactly what Peter has accomplished. 

The Mirvish subscription has been my first theatre subscription. Most of the plays were excellent, and I saw several I wouldn't normally choose, which I think is great for broadening horizons. Even so, as much as I enjoyed the line-up, when the invitation arrived in my mailbox this month, I decided not to renew.

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