Red Sky Performance
Trace is a sumptuous new dance and music creation that explores Indigenous connections to ancestral beginnings. Inspired by Anishinaabe cosmology - our star and sky stories - Trace maps our history and future evolution. We are traceable to the beginnings of the universe, our ancestral origins stretching across the Milky Way to the very atoms burning inside of us here on earth. Red Sky
This was so hypnotic. The Berkeley stage is big enough for a company of dancers and a trio of musicians, yet still small enough to feel intimate.
Many profound truths were enlivened by the dancers as visuals were projected behind them and live musicians sculpted sound. Beautifully choreographed. Memorable scenes: seeds struggle to open; star dust gives birth to human form; text from the Indian Act in 1921 strongly forbidding dance crumbles behind the dancers as their defiance grows stronger; human forms rise on the shoulders of those who have gone before; human sighs draw new constellations. Truly amazing! I am now a fan of artistic director Sandra Laronde and will watch for any new productions.
The Children, Canstage, October 13
Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children takes place at a cottage in England, near a nuclear power plant where there has been a catastrophic accident complicated by a tsunami – echoes of the 2011 disaster in Japan. Physicist Rose (Fiona Reid) is making a surprise visit to her former colleagues Hazel (Laurie Paton) and her husband Robin (Geordie Johnson), with whom she consulted on the plant’s construction decades ago. As the action unfolds, the true nature of the relationships become crystallized, the extent of the environmental disaster emerges and Rose makes a stunning proposal to the couple. (Toronto Star)
I puzzled a bit over the characters on stage. They were drawn so jaggedly it must have been intentional fragmentation. Appearing internally inconsistent they became predictably unpredictable, as though the playwright might have consciously modelled them do the opposite of their instinct.
Exploring the theme of what one generation owes the next, the mother stays to take care of her adult child; the childless woman braves a return to a broken nuclear plant to save future generations; the father makes an entrance with a tricycle, a Peter Pan who hasn't really grown up and likely never will. Three outstanding actors bring new definition to the meaning of character.
Portia's Julius Caesar, Shakespeare in the Ruff, August 28
Shakespeare in the Park
Outdoor summer theatre at Withrow Park. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar reimagined through the eyes of Portia and other female characters. Engaging and interesting but waaaay too long. Uneven performances in the sense that some were extremely one note (shouting every line), while others were delivered with more emotional complexity. Saw this near the end of the run, so maybe a few were a bit tired and ready to move along. Still, a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.
Midsummer Night's Dream, Canstage, July 19
Shakespeare in the Park
Outdoor summer theatre in the almost-round at High Park. This was a rather bawdy version with florescent coloured dildos being waved about. They could also pass for brightly coloured balloons to the kids in the audience. All the actors played several parts which led to some quick costume changes, especially for the actors playing Bottom/Oberon and Duke/Francis Flute. It wasn't until the cast took a final bow that I knew for sure they'd done double-duty.
Dead Talks, Fringe Festival, Tarragon Theatre, July 11
Original and in development
Interesting premise and lots of future potential for this play. I was intrigued when a talk-show angel welcomed the audience and announced we were all dead. This was just after the opening scene which has sadly become a bit cliche, where an older male publisher is plying a young female author with alcohol and starts coming on to her in his apartment. Cut to purgatory, where neither has a memory of the event until it eventually rises. I found the ending gratuitous, where the rape scene is re-enacted, because it was stuck so harshly and abruptly without a denoument.
Restless Spirit, Fringe Festival, Theatre Passe Muraille, July 10
Original and in development
A historical piece about a girl with a genuine gift for communicating with with the dead, around the time that spiritualism was finding an audience. Alex' longtime friend Dylan played the opportunistic villain, and did so alarmingly well.
Plays in Cafes, Fringe Festival, Poetry Jazz Cafe, July 5
This play was staged in Kensington Market, in a very small venue with a company playing to an audience of less than fifty. It was a fun concept, in that the audience could order moods off the menu, while the cast performed within the same small space. I got a chance to chat with the artistic director before the show started, and learned a little about how companies are guided through the production cycle by the Fringe festival, while volunteers and non-union staff help to keep the ticket prices so affordable.
Come From Away, Royal Alexandra Theatre, May 16
Just because it's popular doesn't mean it isn't fantastic
Why had I been avoiding this? A Canadian play with a triumphant Broadway debut returning to Toronto for sold out shows.
We finally went and it really was fantastic! More than a love story, thankfully. Yes, a "feel good" play, but in this world, these days, we probably need stories that remind us we can make a big difference in each other's lives that ripple out beyond islands.
The Overcoat, Can Stage, Bluma Appel, April 8
Do clothes make the man?
Akaky Akakievich struggles in his civil service job, with barely enough money to buy decent food and pay his rent. When his winter coat falls apart he finds a way to buy a new one - so beautiful it opens doors to parties and conversations with beautiful women and even talk of a promotion. Until, walking home from a party he is mugged for his coat. The police refuse to help and Akaky finds himself in dire straights. A straight jacket, in fact, in a madhouse. Gogol's story is as relevant today as when it was published in 1842.
Cottagers and Indians, Tarragon Theatre March 22
Cottagers and Indians takes a sincere and pragmatic look at the current conflicts between First Nations traditional water usage and property owners in cottage country who are looking to enjoy an undisturbed summer getaway.
Drew Hayden Taylor—a pioneer of Native comedy—turned to humour to better express his culture in the theatre. After hearing an interview with this playwright on the radio, we decided to check out the play.
Wild rice is being planted and harvested along the cottage shoreline. The story is based on actual events.
Love the Tarragon theatre space and we sat right up front. The performance we attended had a bonus treat of Q&A with the playwright and actors - we stuck around to hear a personal take. The performers talked about how every night is different, as different audiences laugh or gasp in different spots; they adjust lines and delivery accordingly.
The author repeated a line we heard on his radio interview, "humour is the WD40 of healing."
The Humans, Can Stage, Bluma Appel February 17
"Breaking with tradition, Erik Blake has brought his family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter's lower Manhattan apartment. As darkness falls, tensions reach a boiling point, and the unspoken pressures facing the Blake clan simmer to the surface. Winner of four 2016 Tony Awards, including Best New Play, Stephen Karam's breakthrough comedy-drama is a scorchingly funny and frighteningly timely snapshot of a family caught in the wake of a changing nation."
Job loss, unemployment, underemployment, health issues, affairs, break-ups, 911, lights flickering on and off - everything falling apart. It all seemed pretty dark to me. Black humour provided minimal comic relief.
At the very end of the play, Eric stumbles in darkness and finally finds the door to the hallway, confronting the dark tunnel of his nightmares. He has no choice but to enter the darkness if he is to leave the apartment to join the rest of his family and journey home. There is an interminable wait at the threshold while he screws up his courage, a small pool of light spilling on the floor. I had to fight back the urge to holler, "leave already!!"
The stage was a life-sized dollhouse of a Manhattan apartment, complete with spiral staircase, bars on the window, a bathroom inconveniently (and brilliantly) located. Brilliantly because placing it there meant when characters had to leave the main gathering, they could be and would be talked about, providing interesting portraits of family dynamics.
King Lear, Groundlings Theatre Company, Harbourfront Theatre Centre January 27
Casting a female lead may not change the overall story but it surfaces new dimensions, especially with the relationships between parent and daughters. Mother/daughter vs. father/daughter - is it becomes somehow more personal and less political? Why does the betrayal seem to cut so much more deeply, and the grief more physical?
The stage was spare - 7 or 8 wooden boxes shifted around by players to suggest a changing landscape. A large drum half-concealed behind the curtain creating the sound of battle and storm.