Sweet Mama and the Salty Muffins is getting a one-night remount! We are pleased to be invited to share the play as part of the first annual D'Arcy Symposium Pop-Up art show. The show will bring together installations and performances from a variety of artists in a 120 year old house in downtown Toronto. The show runs throughout the evening on May 26 and is PWYC. More details here.
It has taken me a little while to write about this show, in part because I was wondering whether the feeling of awe would subside; whether I might come to a point in my reflections on the play where is began to see cracks in the surface. Alas, a week on, and there are none.
Lepage is a master storyteller, completely in control of the simplicity of the story and his means of telling it at all times. Starting out speaking colloquially, he slips into the world of the play so seamlessly that once the audience realize, there is a collective gasp -- upon the first reveal of the set. We spiral into the world with him, one of memory and recollection, wherein he parallels his own childhood memories of people, most importantly his father, with a story of his own desire to be remembered in a certain way.
Lepage's ingenious set design makes use of his love of live video in a striking way, illuminating the spaces he is talking about on a physical space with life -- causing us to ponder the simultaneously static and living nature of our memories of people. They remain the same, and yet change, almost unknown to us. Along with this, his use of perspective helps further this story of how we perceive and therefore how we remember. Lepage, the adult reflecting backward looms large over the apartment building, while Lepage the small child in the memory is towered over by the image of the soldier, brilliantly realized through camera angle and its relationship to a pair of boots.
Despite all of the stage magic and technology, every moment, every image comes across as completely simple and effortless. Even the use of smell, moving from a moment with firecrackers in a metal bin, to rolling in boxes of memories seems almost accidental. But rest assured, not a single thing that transpired on the stage was accidental, each moment carefully planned and yet seeming to be a surprise even to Lepage himself.
Another layer, of course, is the inherently Canadian story Lepage tells, weaving between French and English, manifesting the conflict of the play through nothing smaller than the French/English conflict present even today in Canada, and most certainly in 1960's Quebec. Through the use of Michèle Lalonde's Speak White, a stunning climactic moment in the performance by Lepage, every anxiety and inadequacy of "canadian-ness" came to light; particularly poignant in the face of the Canada 150 celebrations. What version of Canada are we celebrating?
I'm truly honoured to have seen not only this master's work, but performed by the master himself. This will not soon leave my memory.
It has taken me awhile to feel like I could write about this play. The Wedding Party is deliciously fun, tears in your eyes, gut-hurt funny. This isn't the reason it took me so long. In the days following my attendance at this hilarious, intelligent, beautifully written and expertly performed production, it felt as though the world was falling apart. Trump began a daily barrage of executive orders that upended what we think about human decency and caring for others. In the face of this, how could I reconcile a play that was by contrast, seemingly so light in subject and tone?
It came to me the other night, however, on one of my late night dog-walks, seeing people come out of the theatre with huge smiles on their faces (I live upstairs of The Crowsnest). Seeing those faces of pure joy as they walked toward their cars or transit. Hearing them recalling favourite moments, that they'll "never look at a dog in the same way" or "windbreaker of lies" followed by shared laughter, it occurred to me that the point of this kind of play is to be a release. A release from the drudgery, the sadness, the despair. And it is so utterly necessary sometimes to just laugh. To laugh at the idiosyncrasies of an elderly grandmother, or a young boy, or hilarious twin brothers with opposing personalities. To laugh when we see ourselves, our own humanity in these people.
This post is less about the production (which is fantastic, and I 100% recommend to anyone, anywhere) but rather about why this sort of play, which might feel frivolous in these times, is still important. We still need to laugh. To laugh is to remind us of our humanity.
Also, seeing Tom Rooney in a scene with himself is something that everyone should experience.
The Lion In Winter is a darkly comic re-imagining of the story of King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitane in their epic battle of wills. Their machinations use their children as chess pieces, always vying for power through the manipulation or tricking of one or another. Krista Jackson's production takes a scene or so to warm up, however once the cast settle in to the quick pace it begins to crackle with energy. The actors are extremely well cast -- of particular note is the delightfully cunning Brenda Robins as Eleanor. With so many twists and turns, the script would almost be exhausting, however Robins deft turns in energy and objective keep it from growing stale. Sarah Afful is also notable as Alais, who in the hands of a lesser actor would come across as melodramatic.
The one piece that remains puzzling is the design; featuring three pillars to create multiple rooms and space, they are covered in a spackled black paint which does not align with the richness of some of the costumes, nor does it quite contrast fully. Similarly, the overall look of the costuming lacks a cohesive voice and sense of style, resulting in looking a bit thrown together.
As a lover of theatre, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about verbatim plays. On one hand, I find they are an amazing way to explore contemporary and political stories that feels real and connected, unlike purely dramatic fiction which can come across as issue-based, single-sided, and staid. On the other hand, I struggle with issues of ethics in the story (eg: including the conversation where someone asked not to be included, or highlighting as a plot point the refusal of those with opposing opinions to participate). That said, I found Soutar's script to deftly avoid many of these potential roadblocks, to create a fast-paced and engaging story about something extremely important -- water.
The performers of this re-mounted production were uniformly outstanding, most of whom played multiple tracks of parts with quick change timings that would make a stage manager faint. Juliet Fox's outstanding modular set demonstrated both utility, and an overwhelming sense of the fragility of our current situation portrayed through the play, by situating the actors on a set completely constructed of pallets.
There were definitely bumpy moments for me, from a dramaturgical perspective, including the inclusion of former Prime Minister Harper as a character (though great comic relief) and quite a lot of same-idea pushing businesspeople and politicians -- I felt the script might have benefited from a tightening to focus on what I found the most compelling, the story of the 3 little girls. Hearing the interview questions asked of adults "just doing their job" from the mouths of intelligent young children was jarring, and demanded we pay attention to what and how we answer. An excellent production and script overall, I just felt that this broadening of scope potentially missed the opportunity to really hit home by asking us real and difficult questions. Most adults have been in that position -- where a young person you love and care for asks you a question about something that even you don't understand in the world. When this happens, we are compelled to answer and yet know that there are no words that can answer their unending "why". This was the power of The Watershed, in my opinion. Young voices asking WHY.
The Watershed runs to Oct 30 at Tarragon in association with Crow's Theatre & Porte Parole.
The recent conversion of the Tom Patterson theatre to an in the round venue was perhaps the most perfect decision to frame this outstanding production of Miller's All My Sons, directed by the inimitable Martha Henry. The logistics of the playing space are such that the audience feel situated just over the next fence, or peering in from a nearby treehouse on this neighbourhood, the effect of which is to create an intimacy with the characters which might be lost in a larger and more traditional proscenium space. What is most notable, however, is the mindful pace with which the story progresses; never feeling slow, the story seeps like air slowly leaving a tire, until suddenly it is all out, and crisis hits.
Lucy Peacock delivers a heartbreaking performance as Mother (Kate) Keller, her every choice so beautifully and naturally evoked that one forgets for a moment you are watching an actor, and not just peering in on real life. She is holds the cast rooted, and around her the ensemble weave a spellbinding picture of this neighbourhood and these people. Of particular note are Tim Campbell and Sarah Afful, who take the roles of the young lovers to a new height. With such nuanced performances, I can't wait to see each of them continue to grow as performers and take on more roles.
Absolutely stunning work. The 3 acts flew by, and left us winded, gasping for air. Please see this play.
Antoni Cimolino gives us a sumptuous feast in his 2016 production of Macbeth on the Festival stage. Stunning costumes and set, complimented by outstanding set design, and quite possibly the best manifestation of the Wyrd sisters one could imagine, he teases out the dark energy in the play beautifully to keep the audience attentive through the ancient story of lust for power.
The pacing is generally quite good, and some of the set changes (into the feast!) are so magical as to elicit a gasp from even the most hardened audience members, myself included. So it is unfortunate when mid-scene, some of the work and timing grows a bit slow. There are moments where the physical choices and actions are separated into silence from the text, and I felt this served to undermine the otherwise blistering energy and momentum of the production.
What was most delightful, however, as the depth of performances by some of the secondary characters; the MacDuffs were both outstanding, and David Collins managed to make the relatively small character of Ross one of the most memorable of the evening. I also truly enjoyed the menace elicited in the language simply through the presence of children in the space! There were drawbacks, however, with some cast members lacking clarity in the thoughts of the text, which rendered it audibly muddled. Krystin Pellerin's Lady Macbeth was unfortunately static; she began in a place of desire for fame, which was heightened and a touch obsessive, which left her nowhere to go upon being haunted.
Overall, a wonderfully magical production done on a scale most of us could only imagine.
Upon entering the space, you know you are in for something different. Arranged with 4 blocks of audience facing one inward alley performance space, with an aisle between and space all around the perimeter, the walls are covered in white and six video screens loom overhead. The show kicks off with a burst of energy and suspense, in its opening moments merging sound, video, and live action. What ensues is another 57 scenes which are gleaned from Hollywood chase scenes. The combination of live video feed and live action serves to deconstruct some of the more iconic images that this conjures up, to great effect, including wind machines and assistants fixing hairdos.
The show took me a few scenes to really settle in to, but once the scenes began to pace and shape our experience as the audience, I really got into it. There was a unique balance of humour and more serious technical prowess as the performers moved through the scenes at a breakneck pace.
I did find that not all scenes were equal; those which really aimed to deconstruct the traditional view of what we see on film were the most successful from my view, as were those which dealt with nightmares. Some, however, felt like filler, and could have benefitted from a swipe of the dramaturgical pen, if you will.
I absolutely must mention the feat of technical engineering involved in the live mixing of 2 live cameras and a static pre-recorded video feed. While the technology didn't always cooperate at the performance I saw, it was nonetheless powerful in terms of the contribution to storytelling.
Not without flaws, Chase Scenes are definitely worth seeing.
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1018058811583055/
Summerworks Page: http://summerworks.ca/2016/artists/chase-scenes-1-58/
Waawaate Fobister in The Crackwalker, photo by Joseph Michael Photography
The Crackwalker is an iconic piece of Canadian theatre, and undoubtedly one of the most familiar to audiences and students across the country. Countless drama students approach monologues from the play, embracing its surreal imagery and meticulous text. For many, Thompson may be the first introduction to a non-realistic style, given how bombarded and overwhelmed theatre students tend to be with TV and Films (AKA Naturalism) before they come to study.
Factory's Naked season present a new production of the play directed by the playwright herself. Now I have seen many productions of Thompson's work, and read everything she has written, and I can't say that I have ever heard a production that so clearly understood the rhythm, pace, and cadence of each character. One of the biggest challenges performing or directing her writing is the specificity of the language, and the fact that it is almost indecipherable on first read. Why are there capitals? Why does that sentence just trail off? Why does it feel like this character never stops to breathe? Under Thompson's direction, the characters' voices were astoundingly clear, and their natural rhythms unbelievably innate.
The production also benefitted physically; Thompson re-wrote some aspects, including the addition of The Crackwalker present throughout many of the scenes, playing an almost trickster role, facilitating some of the violent acts through surreal staging, and speaking many of his lines in Ojibway. This addition, while it absolutely worked in several scenes -- including the stunning and consistently shocking oven scene -- however at times his presence was distracting. That said, the further I come from the performance, the more I wonder whether that distraction was intentional? I'll never know, of course, but I do love to wonder.
The production runs for just a few more days, and I strongly recommend you see this energetic and talented young cast tackle a truly important piece of theatre.
The recent Soulpepper re-mount of their revival production of David French's Jitters punched well above my expectations. I attended expecting a little nostalgia in a period-staged production, however was very surprised when the key ideas of the play -- those of Canadian artists' inherently self-deprecating natures, and of the idea that only those who leave are truly stars -- resonated as incredibly contemporary and relevant. These are still conversations that we have, and problems that we face, although I would suggest that these feelings are much more prominent now in the regions than in Toronto. Toronto artists (and to some extent, Montreal artists) have grown in to the confidence in their own work that does not need outside approval. Regional artists and companies, in my experience, are less so, depending on the validation of a director, actor, or first production elsewhere to be confident. This is changing, but I couldn't help but wonder how this play in today's world would have resonated differently for a regional audience. In Toronto, it played as a funny and honest homage to our past. Elsewhere it might look all too familiar to the present.
All this aside, the production is wonderfully performed and staged, and absolutely hilarious. So go see it!