Sunday, May 22, 2011

Girl Power(less) - Play Reviews

The Shape of a Girl - Green Thumb Theatre at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Joan MacLeod, Directed by Patrick McDonald
Runs until May 19th 2011

The Post Office - Pleiades Theatre at Berkeley Street Theatre - Toronto, ON - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Rabindranath Tagore, Translated by Julie Mehta, Directed by John Van Burek
Runs until June 4th 2011

Calendar Girls - Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto, ON - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Tom Firth, based on the film by Tom Firth and Juliette Towhidi, Directed by Marti Maraden
Runs until May 28th 2011

The Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People ended its season bring back a new touring production of the critically acclaimed The Shape of a Girl, though it was my first time seeing it. A one act, one actor play, that looks at female bullying through the eyes of a bystander named Braidie. The play was inspired by the tragic murder of Victoria teen Reena Virk, who died at the hands of her female teen harassers and is alluded to within the story, but Braidie recounts the incidents that lead to a similar bullying incident at her own school with actress Georgina Beaty doing multiple duties as other characters.

The Shape of a Girl deals with some very painful and ugly parts of our society, one that we often would like to ignore. It is less of a play to enjoy than it is to be reminded of our responsibilities in society. While some of the early intercutting of characters often get a little confusing, as the storyline begins to clarify itself, MacLeod's message sharpens enough to cut an emotional wallup.

I commend the message of the play, and liked turning the point-of-view to someone not directly involved in a bullying incident, with a likable performance by Beaty. There could have been a heightened anger in Braidie's rebelliousness and I'm not sure if the play was fashioned in a way to fully utilize one actor to benefit the story, and could have benefited from other actors, or a different structure in the dialogue.

In the Canadian premiere of the over 100-year-old Indian play The Post Office, a simple tale of a hopeful but ill boy seems hampered either in the translation or through an uneven production that starts off with divinely strong. In a simple but beautiful set by Teresa Przybylski and movement choreography by Hari Krishnan, the play starts off quite seductively. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the play seems extremely inert, and despite the exotic costumes, it never feels like we've travelled to India and I wasn't taken into the wonders of Tagore's folk tale.

The play was not helped by an unconvincing boy portrayal by female actress Mina James, who tended to shout her lines as the rest of the cast remained subtle (even in some cartoony roles). We are supposed to feel for the boy and hope that his fantastical predictions come true, but it was fellow characters that grabbed much of the attention.

Calendar Girls, a direct play translation of the cutesy British feel-good film landed in London's West End a few years ago, and has now been brought over the pond to Toronto in a full scale production. While the production is competent, there seems to be no real reason for it to exist in its current format, except as an excuse to sell tickets to groups of older ladies who seemed to enjoy the elder version of Sex and the City. I found the play to be the epitome of commercial fare, with a perfectly calculated balance of some choice manipulation with the central cancer plot device to justify the frivolity in the girls bonding story. There's a crassness behind the play's attempt to give deeper resonance to the feel-good story.

Much of the first act only seems to ploddingly place all the right pieces for the story to exist, and its only the zippy freshness of the actual calendar shoot when the show feels like it is truly starting. A second act fares better, but again, much of the drama seems quite contrived and tame, relying on taboo subjects that no longer feel taboo (and not set up well enough to feel taboo even in its context), and I almost wish they used the flimsy excuse of the story and at the very least, had turned it into a musical, which could have heightened some of the silly drama.

At least Fiona Reid stars in it as the leader of the group, and Reid is wonderful, while the rest of the cast stays on pace while they bare all (physically, not as much emotionally, though it's not like the dialogue gives them much to work with).

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