Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Friend Like Me? - Jabber - Play Review

Jabber - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Marcus Youssef, Directed by Amanda Kellock
Runs until Dec. 7th 2013


Fatima used to hang out with her hijab-wearing friends, dubbing themselves the "jabbers", but when a racist incident happens at her school, Fatima's parents panic and force her to move to a new school. At the new school, Jorah is a troubled and mysterious boy who is intrigued by the new Muslim girl at his school, where both keep bumping into each other at the Guidance Counsellor, Mr. E's, office. At least, that's what the play sets it up to be, introducing the story as actors playing the story.

Jabber sets itself up as a play for teens, but while it uses it's framing device and teen-speak tone to connect with its intended audience, it's unraveling complexity, slowly revealing the two main characters' individual emotions, problems, and thoughts, and the many issues teens deal with today, manage to draw us in. Everything is not as it first seems, and Youssef's play is wonderfully written to examine the assumptions and stereotypes we make, as well as the isolation and connections Canadian teens live through today, despite our facebook-connected world. While there are some moments that might not make sense, it actually comes into play later in the plot, also showing the realities of our human flaws, and not just some perfect moral tale told all neat and tidily.

Amanda Kellock's direction, and using a simple set (by James Lavoie) with some frames, chairs and a screen, is used to maximum effect, with a cast of three gamely presenting this as actors playing out a scenario.

Mariana Tayler is wonderful and believable as Fatima, the Muslim Canadian teen who isn't as shy as people assume her to be. Tayler's Fatima has a great chemistry with Ian Geldart's Jorah, who gives the misunderstood Jorah wonderful layers beneath the hooded "loner". David Skylar fills in the gap as Mr. E, as well as Melissa, another teen girl that goes to the school. Even Skylar's Mr. E, while attempting to be a calm counsellor, still has is own preconceived notions and imperfections. 

While the effective framing device still does first hint that the play might talk down to its teen audience, much like the subject matter, it uses it to revert your initial thoughts and twists and reels you into the story of these two teens' lives. Fatima, Jorah, even Mr. E, and Melissa, are fascinating characters that are far more complex than first-impressions would indicate, and Youssef (whose play Winners and Losers is playing down the street at Canadian Stage/Crow's Theatre) has written a wonderfully complex tale that doesn't feel like a lesson plan.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Canadian Thanksgiving - Innovation - Ballet Review

Innovation - National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (averaged, out of 5 stars)
Watershed - Choreographed by José Navas, Music by Benjamin Britten - *****
Being and Nothingness (Part 1) - Choreographed by Guillaume Côté, Music by Philip Glass - *****
Unearth - Choreographed by Robert Binet, Music by Owen Pallett - **** night's bright day... - Choreographed by James Kudelka, Music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi - ***1/2
Runs until Nov. 28th 2013


Like one of those chef tasting menus where you realize new exquisite flavours from the simplicity and freshness of basic ingredients, the National Ballet's Innovation program, with four new Canadian works, 3 making their world premieres, is a bountiful and filling assortment of ballet delights. Collectively, the works are another beautiful showcase of the ballet company's versatile and powerful ensemble. Canadian dance has much to be thankful for.


Watershed, choreographed by José Navas, is like a ballet rehearsal beautiful lit by James F. Ingalls that displays the beauty of the corps ensemble and the unity AND individuality of the dancers. There are too many beautiful moments from it's large cast of dancers to specify any individual dancer as everyone does a stunning job here. The piece, that uses Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes, uses its simplicity as an asset, creating an emotionally swelling piece despite the lack of any narrative storyline. Navas says he "emphasize the simplicity of a gesture, not just its technical execution, but how one breathes life into it..." and one can feel the breathes emanating from the dancers as part of the piece's life force. An absolutely exquisite dance piece performed with passionate precision by the company.

Being and Nothingness (Part 1) choreographed by principal dancer Guillaume Côté, and danced by Greta Hodgkinson alone with gusto and fury, is a stunning addition to the National Ballet's repertoire. Alone under a pulsating single lightbulb, Hodgkinson jerks and flits in lonely despair to Philip Glass' "Metamorphosis I-V (4th Movement)" and it's heartbreaking and hypnotic. With a title that suggests there will be a part 2, it only suggests more exciting things to come from Côté the choreographer and not just the dancer.


Unearth is a strange and seductive dance piece, with 14 dancers, a mix of principals and corps, showing the amount of talent from all levels of the company. Like aliens on a space mission, or even music and gold reflective costumes that evoke a lost episode of the original Star Trek show, the 14 dancers move about in odd jerky movements in between moments of smooth tranquility, odd body contortions in unison that look perfectly balanced. Against a giant white rock, evoking some distant planet surface, or even Ayers Rock, a grander presence amongst the range of dancers, dancers of different sizes and shapes, Binet's piece is a strange but satisfying composition that feels mystical and out of this world.


... black night's bright day... feels mythological, with mini "stories" and moments with solos, duets and groups that evoke some sort of simple but grandiose tale. James Kudelka's piece has an abundance of beautiful and evocative moments, with haunting images that may have too much for clarity for this one piece, but when it works, it's a beautiful showcase for the company. With great solos by Piotr Stanczyk, Guillaume Côté, and Heather Ogden, and a beautiful debut by guest artist Svetlana Lunkina (from the Bolshoi Ballet), here paired with Côté, it's an embarrassment of riches that might work more with less, but when it also gets to showcase corps members like a captivating Lise-Marie Jourdain against company stars Ogden, McGee Maddox, Robert Stephen and Chelsy Meiss, one can forgive minor misgivings like that.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Highs of Lows - The Valley - Play Review

The Valley - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Joan MacLeod, Directed by Richard Rose
Runs until Dec. 15th 2013


When we expect our police to protect us, what do we actually mean? When someone is depressed or has a mental illness, what is our responsibility to them? Joan MacLeod's new play The Valley delves into these two simple-sounding-but-weighty questions when two families collide by chance on the Skytrain one night in Vancouver.

Dan (Ian Lake, This Is War), a Vancouver policeman, and wife Janie (Michelle Monteith) are new parents and while Dan is off at work, Janie struggles with being herself in motherhood. Up in the hills, single mother Sharron (Susan Coyle) dotes on grown loner son Connor as he goes to university in Calgary for his first semester. When Connor (Colin Mercer) returns at Thanksgiving, he is a shell of a man and Sharron has no idea how to deal with her son's newfound situation. With Connor remaining in Vancouver, he eventually finds a job, but an encounter with policeman Dan on his commute home changes the paths of both these families.


The play is a fascinating set up that raises some fascinating questions about mental health, depression, our role(s) and responsibility towards someone with mental illness, and how our encounters with the police can be affected by it all. They are two huge issues to cover and while the melding of the two creates a great premise, the play understandably only scratches the surface as it tries to keep its focus on these four particular characters.

The cast is wonderful, with Colin Mercer managing to keep our empathy while his Connor tunnels into a dark despair that is frustrating for all those around him. Mercer's performance feels honest and grounded despite the different levels he must vary through the play. Ian Lake is a great anchor as the police officer, trying to keep things straight at home just as he's about to encounter Connor on that fateful night. Michelle Monteith has a inviting presence that lets us into her Janie's struggle and slow devolvement and only wish we got to dig even deeper into Janie's world (as much of the first act felt like Janie-as-seen-through-husband Dan's eyes). Susan Coyle has a innate sensitivity and grace that at times holds her back from truly showing the frustration her Sharron might be struggling with in understanding Connor, but it adds a warmth to the relationship that could have been played simply as dramatic tension.

Richard Rose's direction, putting the audience on both sides of the stage, and keeping the lights just bright enough that a self-awareness of the audience as a community watching, is a smart way to add another layer to the play. The four "stations" in the set, a bed, a dining table, a couch, and desk, most that double as multiple locations, keeps the fluidity between the two stories, with a grey circle at the centre of the stage marking the spot when the stories come together. Beautifully staged and mostly well paced, there are no deep valleys in the production of The Valley.

Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
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Friday, November 15, 2013

Thank Heaven for Little Girls - Annie - YPT Toronto and Broadway - Musical Reviews

Annie TYA- Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin, Book by Thomas Meehan, Directed by Allen MacInnis, Choreographed by Nicola Pantin
Runs until Dec. 29th 2013

Annie - Palace Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Marin Charnin, Book by Thomas Meehan, Directed by James Lapine, Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler 
Runs until Jan. 5th 2014

My fear of little girls singing probably rivals Miss Hannigan's fear of little girls, so I was a bit apprehensive going into Annie this year for my first time (on stage), but the delightful and charming musical is the classic it is for its winning songs and its optimistic outlook and I came out both times humming the tunes with a sunny smile on my face (and I'm still singing it in my head right now).

Annie on Broadway manages to cast some terrifically talented little girls who manages to keep the annoying grating and mugging to a minimum while adults Faith Prince and Anthony Warlow keep command of the stage. Annie at Young People's Theatre uses young adults playing children but it is basically a non-issue with its very young looking cast, and instead, probably provides the most well sung bunch of orphans around. Add in Louise Pitre, Sterling Jarvis and a terrific cast of 14 in the condensed version of Annie (truncated for young audiences), and this simplified version remains a charmer.


Annie at YPT Toronto sounds marvellous with Jenny Weisz (Sheridan Theatre's Come From Away) as its lead. With a group of adults-playing-children orphans (Jess Abramovitch, Mary Antonini, Jessie Cox, Ramona Gilmour-Darling, Natalia Gracious, Nicole Norsworthy), the orphanage sounded fantastic and in wonderful harmony.


Weisz manages to make us forget her real age with some wide-eyed optimism and her beautiful voice and considering most of Annie's lines are simple two word sentences, it's a great feat to keep her feeling real and naive without making her feel stupid. With a great Sterling Jarvis (Caroline, or Change) commanding the role of Oliver Warbucks, Weisz and Jarvis make for a genial pair and their duets sound terrific.

Shawna Van Omme is a lovely Grace, assistant to Warbucks, and is exactly the loving warm heart needed for that role. Richard Binsley is an amusing Roosevelt, while W. Joseph Matheson and Natasha O'Brien have a fun time in the creepy roles of Rooster and Lily St. Regis. (as well as doubling as Roosevelt's cabinet). Dale R. Miller and his beautiful voice fills in various roles nicely.


Then there's Louise Pitre (A Year with Frog and Toad, Mamma Mia) who seems to be having a ball chewing the scenery as the scenery-chewing-character Miss Hannigan, the miserable and deceitful woman running the orphanage. Miss Hannigan's entrance is a little anti-climatic, and her punchlines don't always zing because of the underlining piano runs to emphasize them, but it's fun watching Pitre be deliciously horrible at the children and conniving with Matheson's rooster (and her real life partner).

While the singing in this production was top notch, it was underlined by some great choreography by Nicola Pantin. The staging was efficient on a beautifully versatile set by Teresa Pryzbylski and lighted by Michael Walton (although the opening number could have reframed Annie a tad better), and it made the Young People's Theatre stage look grande, especially in the Warbucks mansion scenes and "NYC" scenes. With the voices and harmony sounding so full, the musical arrangements by Diane Leah work well with a simple piano and wind instrument but one can only imagine what those singers could sound like with a full orchestra behind them!


While the Young People's Theatre uses the "TYA" version of Annie, running approximately 80 minutes, I did not really miss much from the longer version (other than the final romantic development between Warbucks and Grace and a final invite for all the orphans to stay), but instead, we got all of our favorite songs without all the exposition and political elements snuck into the book scenes that probably goes way over the head of a large portion of Annie's audience. It was the best-of-Annie without feeling like a best-of collection, and still felt whole and complete.


Having the full version is what sometimes stalls the Broadway version of Annie. While current Miss Hannigan Faith Prince (Guys & Dolls, A Catered Affair) is, like Pitre, a Broadway diva eating up the orphans with relish and evil sass (and some great comedic moments), and Anthony Warlow is a wonderful Warbucks, some uneven casting in other roles and some over-extended book scenes with some politically heavy story elements sometimes overtake the pleasure of the core story. Taylor Richardson makes a wonderful Annie, and her child cast mates of orphans are terrific. Jenni Barber (who is no longer with the show) was a great Grace, but some of the other cast members were almost mystifying. Still, the overall production, despite some tightening needed, is still an enjoyable Annie overall.

Photos of YPT Toronto production by Cylla von Tiedemann
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Duck Dynasty - Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty - Tchaikovsky Ballet Reviews

Swan Lake - National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Choreography by James Kudelka
Runs until Nov. 17th 2013 and returns Mar. 8-16th 2014

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance - A New Adventures Production at New York City Center - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Choreography by Matthew Bourne
Currently on tour. 

Perhaps I need to see Bourne's Sleeping Beauty again, because while there were enjoyable moments, and I will say the new twist on the story to modernize it interesting..., I did not feel connected to the piece and thought the choreography was not the most interesting dancing Bourne has done, and did not come close to the inventiveness and expressiveness of his Play Without Words or The Car Man. Maybe a second viewing might give me better insight, as my second time around to National Ballet of Canada's Swan Lake, a version choreographed by Canadian James Kudelka, struck me far more than my first viewing. Possibly knowing and understanding the story helped and let me enjoy the choreography unhindered by trying to figure out the classic story (that I had never seen up to that point), but this time around, I found the ballet classic simply beautiful and a great showcase piece for the members of the ballet company.


So now that I fell in love with Kudelka Swan Lake choreography, with scenes to showcase the male ensemble corps in the first act, then the ladies get to impress as swans in the second. With this opening, the company chose to give the leads to rising star McGee Maddox as Siegfried, opposite Principal dancer Xiao Nan Yu, a pairing I was surprised at when first announced for Swan Lake, but in actual performance, works smashingly beautifully!

Xiao Nan Yu is a very strong, self assured dancer. I tend to think of her as the queen mother of sorts of the company, but often, I find her pairings a bit unbalanced because she IS so strong and confident, and a times overpowering her pairing. McGee Maddox, who is a sort of beast of ballet, a muscle framed hulking dancer, who looks more appropriate for the football field than in tights, is a unique star-in-the-making. Maddox, with his boyish matinee idol looks, and atypically large frame, looks like he would be weighted down by his muscles and yet dances with the grace of a feather and manages to float through the air as he jumps. The pairing of Maddox and Yu only strengthens each others best qualities (which they hinted at in Elite Syncopations, though I missed their previous pairings), and allows Yu to freely be as strong as she is, and she gives what may have been her best performance I have seen her do yet.

Yu's Odette, the White Swan, is strong, assured, and beautiful in her confidence. Not necessarily the frail swan waiting for her Prince, but this swan understands her grace and power and it nicely contrasts to Maddox's naive and melancholic Siegfried. We easily understand why the indifferent Prince would fall in love with the radiant swan Odette. Then when Yu becomes Odile, the Black Swan, she becomes confident in a different way. Yu's Odile is coy and seducing, and


Meanwhile, the opening night cast, with nary a sight of the usual Principal stars Antonijevic, Ogden, Côté, Stanczyk, etc., was basically a great showcase for the upcoming stars of The National Ballet of Canada!

Tanya Howard as the Wench, Jillian Vanstone, Jenna Savella, Elena Lobsanova, and Tina Pereira as the Princesses, Nan Wang as Benno, Robert Stephen (who plays the Fool on other nights) in the male corps, Etienne Lavigne as Rothbart. The National Ballet of Canada's future is in great hands (or should that be pointed feet?)! The female corps seemed tighter than ever, while the men had great fun trying to amuse and brighten up the sullen Prince (and this time, beside Robert Stephen, I found Giorgio Galli particularly mesmerizing within the corps).


Less mesmerizing was Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, which had many great ideas and nice theatrical elements (including a somewhat creepy baby puppet to begin the prologue) but it all did not add up to enough of an emotional pull that usually dominates previous Bourne shows I've seen. I appreciate Bourne's effort to rework the simple story of Sleeping Beauty and give it an update and dramatic boost, but it seems to illicit more of a confused response. The subtitle A Gothic Romance brings Sleeping Beauty to modern times in the second act, as Sleeping Beauty has been sleeping for over a 100 years, but while having the young love meet before her sleep induced coma adds resonance to the love story, trying to keep it alive by turning the young man into a vampire, starts feeling more like a way to grab more demographics than trying to make the story make sense.


There are some interesting ways Bourne has inserted unique characters for solos, including some "good" vampire/angels(?), and the costumes and sets by Lez Brotherston keep the visual interest alive, but overall, something about the production just did not quite awaken for me despite an attempt and shaking up the classic fairytale.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Heavy Mental - The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble - Play Review

The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble - Factory Theatre and Obsidian Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Beth Graham, Directed by Philip Akin
Runs until Dec. 1st, 2013

I often complain that too many plays seem to be based around white families with drinking or drug problems and while they definitely mine some dramatic classics out of it (Long Day's Journey Into Night, August: Osage County), it is getting a bit repetitive. Watching The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, it dawned on me why the drinking and drug theme amongst a white family might be so popular, and not just as a default subject for a play. Perhaps there is a slight schadenfreude-ish nature to it, since watching Bernice Trimble, a play presented here by Obsidian Theatre in conjuction with Factory Theatre, a play about a black family dealing with their mother's deteriorating health issue, seems far more heartbreaking with its hopeless nature. Watching Bernice Trimble, the matriarch of the family, growing older and falling into her medical spells is scary and is easily recognizable to anyone who has dealt with elders in their family. Presented and written in such a realistic, matter-of-fact way brings it much closer to our own understanding, and it becomes a painful reminder of the infallible nature of our bodies and mind. While this production presents it happening to a black woman, it could really be any family of any colour or background. The play feels very Canadian, but quite universal.


This is not to say drugs or drinking is funny or sympathetic, but whereas there might be hope in recovery, and sometimes played for laughs by white people in a play, Bernice Trimble is a heavy and saddening tale about the Trimble family, who happen to be black, and their hopeless fight against a deteriorating disease.

While the play is about an extremely depressing subject matter, Beth Graham's play manages to inject humour and light moments giving Bernice Trimble a needed balance to the weighty tale. There is a middle section where moments seem slightly stretched out, buying time and sympathy for the surrounding family before a third-act-reveal moves the play into its most devastating and interesting momentum. But at the heart of the story of Bernice Trimble, we still know little about Bernice herself, and the play spends a tad too much time in setting up the reveal. It however is the family and the cast that ground the play and make it as heartfelt as it is.

Karen Robinson (Stuff Happens) is Bernice Trimble and it is a heartbreaking performance of a woman experience early onset Alzheimers. Lucinda Davis (da Kink in my Hair) plays eldest daughter Sara, a non-stop talking new-mother who spreads her energy and voice in any room she's in. Both are great, and surround the middle child who becomes the centrepiece of the play as the narrator, and while the role is a bit too explanatory, it is encapsulated luminously by Alexis Gordon, who makes Iris Trimble, a nervous, fidgety, compassionate centre and caretaker to Bernice. Squaring off the family is newcomer Peyson Rock as youngest brother Peter, a quiet, introverted but soulful good son and Rock brings a soothing tone that adds some comic beats when placed against the hectic Sara or the intense darkness happening upon Bernice. Four beautiful performances of four very different characters of one family, on a stunning set by Camellia Koo.

The memory play about the loss of memory skills begins well with an engaging Gordon pulling us into her recount. While the play balances the tone quite well, with some light moments and comedic touches amongst a dark story, it could rebalance some of the moments with title character Bernice more in focus, including fleshing out more about Mr. Trimble. Still, the lovely cast pulls out the emotional punches of a loving family dealing with such a realistic bomb.

Photo by Joanna Akyol
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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Storm Chasers - Venus in Fur - Play Review

Venus in Fur - Canadian Stage Company at Bluma Apel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Written by David Ives, Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Runs until Oct. 27th, 2013

When Venus in Fur initially moved to Broadway, much of it was credited to showcasing relative newcomer Nina Arianda in her breakthrough role as Vanda(/Wanda), a seemingly silly and not-that-bright actress crashing in late for an audition in a new adaptation for the play Venus in Fur. David Ives' clever and fun play (with a play within the play) with two great characters and a starmaking role for an actress. Nina Arianda made waves and landed herself the Tony Award (and a role in a Woody Allen film, amongst many) and the play garnered a Tony Award Best Play nomination, landed on my Best of Stage 2011 list, and is now topping the list of the most produced play for this current theatre season.


Now in Toronto, Carly Street and Rick Miller do battle in this play about the power shifting between an actress and a writer/director, a woman and a man, the submissive and dominant, during the audition for a play about the man who coined the term Sado-Masochism. While the tension builds slowly between who truly holds the power in the audition, the sexual tension builds as it overlays on the reading of the play within the play. Is it all just acting? Is it just an intellectual exercise? A game being played out in a simple audition room during a stormy evening.


Carly Street (Bloodless, Clybourne Park) is magnetic as Vanda and half the fun is watching the differences between the actress' personality and her audition performance within the play. Part of it is a bit of a fish-out-of-water charm and the hijinks that ensue, but it gets truly intense when the serious issues of woman empowerment in a man's world begins to bubble through during the audition process.

Rick Miller (MacHomer) holds his own against a much brasher and showier role in Vanda, though much like Hugh Dancy on Broadway, still loses out to the power of a star-in-the-making actress in a star-in-the-making role of Vanda. While the chemistry does eventually ramp up near the end, the back and forth in power balance could be heightened earlier on as you never quite feel Vanda loses the true grip of the situation from the beginning. Still, minor quibbles and something I noted in both versions I saw, so perhaps it is just that Vanda is so well written and so fascinating, it's hard not to feel convinced of her ultimate power.

I still found myself grinning through the whole show, and forgot how funny the play actually is. Despite the sexy and dark themes, and the serious questions posed in sexual relations, Venus in Fur is such a delightful romp, even a set I did not love (though an audition room with a table, chaise, pipe and windows is probably not that much to work with) could not distract me from the great and wonderful performances in a savvy play.

Photos by David Hou
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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Big Y - The Flood Thereafter, Pig, Mr. Burns - Play Reviews

The Flood Thereafter - Canadian Stage Company at Berkeley Street Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Sarah Berthiaume, Translated by Nadine Desrochers, Directed by Ker Wells
Runs until Oct. 6th 2013

Pig - Buddies in Bad Times Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars) 
Written by Tim Luscombe, Directed by Brendan Healy
Runs until Oct. 6th 2013

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play - Playwrights Horizons - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Anne Washburn, Directed by Steve Cosson
Runs until Oct. 20th 2013 

Three fascinating plays performed in three stellar productions, yet each play left me leaving the theatre asking "but why?". Perhaps my reaction (and thus opinion of the play) has more to do with my own understanding of each play, and less to do with the plays themselves (since each production themselves were excellent). While the plays may have simply there to pose questions, I couldn't help wanting more answers.


In The Flood Thereafter, a new twist on the story of Odysseus, now set in a small Quebec fishing village where each day, June, a daughter of the Sirens, strips for the townsmen who weep at the sight of her beauty. When a young outsider Denis finds himself in town, an attraction between the two younguns starts pulling apart the nets set in place by the women of the town.

Kevin MacDonald and Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster are enigmatic as Denis and June, with Maggie Huculak standing out amongst a game cast as Penelope, an older Siren waiting for her own Odysseus to show up (from the bar). On a stunning set by Yannik Larivée, the actors recite poetic monologues and the audience itself gets implicated in our watchful desires as Lancaster's June strips for the bar patrons (and audience).

Using the Greek tale with a Quebec modern twist is an interesting premise, but much of the drama feels familiar despite the new perspective, and there does not seem to be any deeper insight into this exercise in lust, desires, and waiting out life while drowning in it.


In the notorious Pig, Luscombe examines an alternative side to gay love beyond the mainstream version gay politics have been trying to sell to legitimize gays to the masses. Written to shock, the new play follows multiple angles of gay relationships that take extreme sex, sado-masochistic yearnings and even death into play. There are fascinating issues at hand, including a couple whose HIV positive half wants his young lover to participate in a seeding party (where the uninfected gets infected) as the ideas turn them on, yet with the hint of death lingers.

Luscombe's play is intentionally confusing, playing with timelines, reality and storytelling, and multiple characters played by three actors (or sometimes the same character in different timelines). The confusing narrative adds to the dark and confusing nature of the subject matter but while the twisty format adds to the tension and the tone of the play, it might ultimately be the demise of the play in the later half of the play when things really get dark and a truer, deeper connections to the characters could benefit the play as a whole. While I was not particularly shocked by the actions of these characters, I was hoping to understand why they found such harsh sex and love such a turn on, and how these people's desires were intertwined with their being.

The production itself however is beautifully done, with go-for-broke performances by the amazing cast of Paul Dunn, Blair Williams and Bruce Dow. As the central couple(s), Dunn and Williams have a fascinating pas-de-deux with a dance of power, desires and fear. Dow, playing the most distinctly different characters (and often our best clue to differing narratives) is horrifying/creepy/sweet/pitiful as the 3rd wheel instigator. Healey's tight direction on a beautifully haunting set by James Lavoie and lighting by Rebecca Picherak is only enhanced by the sound design by Antoine Bedard.


In Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, during a post-apocalyptic time, survivors hide out and begin retelling the old Cape Fear episode of The Simpsons. Then several years later, the same group perform another episode without the use of electricity, and under threat from possible attack. A couple generations later, a group performs the same Cape Fear episode as a play, only with narrative and lines changed to fit with their own post-apocalyptic history. As an academic exercise, it's an interesting exploration of the process of storytelling and how legends and parables are created through the broken-telephone evolution.

While the first two acts set up an interesting premise, the third act, presented as-is (as the Simpsons show within the show) with only a final second reveal that adds the layer of commentary over the whole play. In the end, as much as I enjoyed the first half, as academically clever as the whole play might have been, the third act lost me with little resonating, and feeling like an overstretched sketch to drive home a simple idea. So why was the play so critically admired?

Photo of The Flood Thereafter by Bruce Zinger
Photo of Pig by Jeremy Nimnagh
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mother Knows - The Best Brothers - Play Review

The Best Brothers - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Daniel MacIvor, Directed by Dean Gabourie
Runs until Oct. 27th, 2013

Daniel MacIvor's latest play, originally written for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2012 season, has been transferred over to Tarragon Theatre, and like the last Stratfest-to-Tarragon transfer (The Little Years), it has given the Toronto theatre audience a second chance at discovering a tiny gem of a play.


The Best Brothers is about a straight laced architect and his gay real estate agent brother as they come together to deal with the tragic death of their mother. After dying in a freak accident at a Gay Pride event, the Best brothers must confront their mother's demise, their relationships with her, each other, and how a pet dog shall be dealt with.

Considering the premise is such a morbid sounding situation, MacIvor's two actor play is surprisingly light and calming, with the right touch of humour that balances the more emotional aspects of the show. With MacIvor playing the architect brother and John Beale as the other, the relationship between the two brothers on display seems genuine in their pointed banter with the hints of familial love beneath the brotherly jibes.

With a season already under their belts, Beale and MacIvor's timing and chemistry together is spot on, and adding a great score by Jonathan Monro, and lighting design cues by Etai Erdal on a beautifully simple but shifting set by Julie Fox only underlines their perfect synchronization in the play. And in a clever move, both actors portray the mother giving each brother their own personal connection to the central figure.


MacIvor is wonderful as the actor in the play he wrote (not really a surprise), but the real discovery is John Beale, an actor I was not familiar with (a Nova Scotia native) but am glad has come to Toronto in this superb performance. I was not really familiar with director Dean Gabourie's work either but the whole production is smooth and feels seamless and very clever in its simplicity, allowing the Best Brothers' relationship and banter room to grow and fill the stage and our hearts.

Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dazed and Amused - The Taming of the Shrew and The Drowned Man - Theatre Reviews

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable - Punchdrunk and The National Theatre at Temple Studios - London, UK - **** (out of 5 stars)
Directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle

The Taming of the Shrew - Canadian Stage Company's Shakespeare in High Park Amphitheatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Ted Witzel
Runs until Aug. 31 2013

A usual natural benchmark for liking a show is that I need to understand it. Sounds obvious, but maybe it does not always have to be so? Punchdrunk melded Macbeth into its highly stylized experience du-jour theatre in Sleep No More, and now has taken a less widely known story of Woyzeck, and it turns it into a murky The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. Meanwhile, Canadian Stage's Shakespeare in High Park takes on The Taming of the Shrew without the clearest narrative. Yet both shows, if one accepts the premise, were enjoyable outings despite the confusion over the storylines.

I'll admit, if I didn't read a particular Shakespeare play (back in high school), then my knowledge of the play most probably comes from Hollywood films. And except for Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, they mostly from Hollywood updated versions usually set in a high school. So between the musical version Kiss Me Kate, my only other reference to The Taming of the Shrew comes from the updated film 10 Things I Hate About You, which while a great film, doesn't quite carry the controversial nature of this Shakespeare comedy.

Ted Witzel's production of the problematic The Taming of the Shrew ups the pastel colour quotient, brings out a flamboyant (is sometimes overly stereotypical) energy, and puts a gay twist and some female empowerment into a tale that can be sometimes mistaken for the opposite. The sentiment is there, with the transition scenes with a great soundtrack make them feel like quick montages that moves the show briskly along as a 90 minute show, but there are some creative choices I didn't fully understand, and that didn't quite explain the story smoothly. There were certain things that irked me, including a bit too obvious cliche of a rocker-dressed hard edged Kate the Shrew, and one that shows her coolness by smoking cigarettes,

Despite the flaws, I enjoyed seeing the chilling cast from Macbeth completely flip tones and have fun in this frilly and sassy Shrew. Greg Gale is again splendid as Hortensio, and Jennifer Dzialoszynski is adorable as Bianca. Kevin MacDonald is wonderful as a leading man Petruchio while Sophie Goulet shakes through the overall set up and is a winning Kate.

Punchdrunk, who turned a space in Chelsea into the haunting, Hitchcock inspired McKittrick Hotel in Sleep No More, has now transformed a warehouse space beside Paddington Station into Temple Studios, a Hollywood studio in the seedy 60s. In The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, Punchdrunk explores the tale of Woyzeck, a man who is betrayed by many, including his wife and society in general. Mixing illusions of reality and dreams in the dank shadowy side of Hollywood, California; behind trailer parks and behind the studio lights hiding in the darkness, Punchdrunk has set up a playground to explore the breaking of a man. As with Sleep No More though, it is up to the audience member themselves to discover it amongst the intricate sets and brilliant music soundtracks and lighting cues, all amazing stage managed with incredible precision as the actors wander and dance
and blur the lines between their characters as actors or are they characters in Woyzeck themselves?

In a twist, there seems to be a male and female version of Woyzeck happening simultaneously, adding to the confusion over which man (or woman) is being drowned in a sea of despair, although all of the buildup to a finale that alludes to the unfinished original work (and title of this show) does not add clarity to the piece. Then again, maybe I just missed some of those scenes? As with Sleep No More, half the fun is to piece together scenes you saw with those of other audience members, since the narrative is essentially determined by you, the viewer. Unlike Sleep No More though, Woyzeck just seems to be less known than Macbeth, and thus it is harder to identify key characters and pieces to the story.

With allusions to David Lynch's Twin Peaks and a voyeuristic touch that gets enhanced even more with its Hollywood and cinema settings (including a one way viewed cinema screen), there's a lot of layers one can take it and explore. In the end, I'm not sure I understood it all, but experiencing the moods and mystery within the outstanding technical achievement of the production is worth the trip back to a troubled Hollywood.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

The Dark Night - Macbeth - Play Review

Macbeth - Canadian Stage Company's Shakespeare in High Park Amphitheatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Ker Wells
Runs until Sep. 1 2013

The summer tradition of Shakespeare in the park continues in Toronto's High Park with Canadian Stage doing its first non-Romeo & Juliet tragedy in a place usually reserved for the lighter comedic and romantic Shakespeare repertoire. Instead, while we will be getting some comedy on alternating nights with The Taming of the Shrew, Canadian Stage opens the summer with a dark and chilling Macbeth that might be a perfect anecdote for the warm summer nights in the outdoor High Park Amphitheatre. With some haunting imagery and creepy performances, director Ker Wells, part of the collaboration Canadian Stage has made with York University's MFA Program graduates, has compacted the show into a 90 minute intermissionless experience.

With a terrific cast lead by Hugh Thompson as Macbeth, the language is beautiful articulated in the outdoor air. Add some seducing witches (in frighteningly beautiful masks and chilling voices), a jarring baby puppet (seriously freaky!) and Greg Gale (His Greatness) as a thoughtful Malcolm opposite Thompson's carnal Macbeth, and Wells' take on The Scottish Play brings out some nuances that never occurred to me before (or explained things I never realized I never understood). While I loved the way Philippa Domville spoke as Lady Macbeth, I did feel she felt underused and understated in her machinations.

The sparse but apocalyptic sets and costumes (by Lindsay C. Walker and Victoria Wallace, respectively) are fully realized in the great dinner scene when Banquo's ghost returns where we see Thompson and Banquo's Kevin MacDonald at their best. Ryan Hollyman as MacDuff, Sophie Goulet as Lady MacDuff and Jennifer Dzialoszynski as Young MacDuff nicely rounded out the cast, and I'm looking forward to seeing this group take on the lighter The Taming of the Shrew on opposite nights! (Opening July 16th, currently in previews)

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Monday, June 03, 2013

Danceworthy: Tina Pereira

National Ballet of Canada First Soloist Tina Pereira is taking on the lead role of Carmen, in a new expanded full length version running at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts this June 5th - 16th (with Tina Pereira performing the role of Carmen on performances June 6, 8, and 9th at the 2pm matinees). I spoke with Tina about taking on the iconic role of Carmen

Tapeworthy: Congrats on getting the principal role in the iconic role of Carmen, so how are you feeling?

Tina Pereira: It’s a pretty amazing role so so far so good!

Tapeworthy: And with such an iconic role, and the National Ballet still has a rotating cast of dancers that performs it, when you’re rehearsing and preparing the role, does the choreographer sort of just place the steps and movements for you, or how much of yourself do you get to put into this kind of performance?

Tina: That’s actually a good question. A lot of it is set for you but I think if a choreographer have different expectations and some are more specific with what they want, and others are more, it’s just good to see what you could bring to the character and to the role. And especially with Davide Bombana [choreographer of Carmen], if you even look at the casting, with me, Heather [Ogden] and Greta [Hodgkinson], we’re all so completely different in every single way, that also lets you know that he’s really looking for your individually interpretation of Carmen.

So for me, I think once he does set the material, then I feel free to add little things that maybe I would do as Carmen that wouldn’t be the same as the other girls and I think he would appreciate that.

Tapeworthy: Yah, like the emotional arcs and your take of the character yourself itself?

Tina: Yah and she’s such a strong character that you do want it to look authentic. So if that’s why he gives that sort of leeway, it’s because if you do something that, not everything looks the same on everybody, and If you do something that really suits you, or suits the character, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody else would feel the same way, or [feel] as comfortable doing what you do.

Tapeworthy: In rehearsing for Carmen, have you discovered anything about yourself?

Tina: (laughs) Yah, actually, I’m pretty much smack in the heart of that right now, that discovery process, because so far we’ve just been learning the new material, and just on Friday it was the first time we’ve tried to piece everything together. And today is the first time I’m having my first work-through. So I’ve spent time this weekend trying to find those moments, but I think it’s a process, and I’m still trying to remember some of the new parts of the choreography, so it’s not quite gelled but I hope after this rehearsal, and I have another run-through on Friday, so between these two times, I’m going to get a really good sense of what I want to do with the character.

Tapeworthy: You and the company are also preparing for the mixed program as well (June 19-23), and you dancers do this all the time and in such close proximity in timing, and they usually are such a different type of ballet, do you enjoy it or is it just crazy?

Tina: I think a little both. I went into this process expecting it to be a little crazy, I’ve done a lot of work on my own and I know there’s just not a lot of time so I have to take a lot of initiative upon myself to really know my material and if that means going home and just reviewing something, just so that I can use the rehearsal time wisely to do everything well instead of trying to remember all the choreography.

So I think at some point when you know you have a heavy load you have to take a lot of responsibility for it.

But as far as [also preparing for the mixed program], I think sometimes it’s hard to go from extremely classical to contemporary but I think at first it was hard but now I’m sort of more used to it. What’s different about it is that you can go into one rehearsal and be wearing pink tights and pink shoes and then go into another rehearsal and be in bare legs and flesh shoes. So sometimes you don’t have time change so if I’m doing Carmen with pink shoes and pink tights, which I had to do once, it feels very bizarre (laughs). I feel like I have to be ten times the character because it feels completely wrong.

Tapeworthy: Going on that, I noticed you have a love for fashion with your blog Ballerina Couture, did you want to speak more about that, and if you were planning to pursue a mix of ballet and fashion more in the future?

Tina: Yah, I definitely am! I just sort of stumbled upon it. I started with a blog and then I started to sew and then kind of fused the two and have a plan to make a leotard line. But that was more when the season isn’t so busy, but as for right now, Ballerina Couture is on a very big hold!

But in the future it’s definitely something, and anytime I have spare time, I love to be learning about fashion.

Tapeworthy: Now that you’ve gotten the role of Carmen, are there any dream roles you would love to play? Or any ballets you would love to perform in that you haven’t yet?

Tina: There are so many and we do have so many in our rep that I would like to do but that’s a hard question!

Tapeworthy: Is there a favorite ballet you just love watching as an audience member?

Tina: Onegin! I love Onegin. I could watch that over and over and cry every time.

Tapeworthy: Yes, that’s a beautiful one! To go off topic, I know you train so properly and have such incredible proper diets; do you have any favorite splurge foods you enjoy?

Tina: Believe it or not I’m a vegetarian and I love to eat healthy. Well I guess every once in a while I’ll have some junk food and if there’s a birthday I kind of love cake (laughs) but I don’t really crave junk on a normal basis.

Tapeworthy: What do you think about shows like So You Think You Can Dance and the popularity of dance in reality TV?

Tina: I think it’s amazing since there are so many people with a passion for dance, and I think a lot of people have grown up and danced at one point, or had a sister or a friend that was in dance and really enjoyed it, but to have a career in it, ballet or musical theatre have been the only venues for that, so for shows like that to spread the popularity of dance, I think is really good, and it’s not like they’re just doing Jazz dancing, there’s everything nowadays, from Hip-Hop to Bollywood, so it’s really nice that all these others interests are being exposed and becoming more mainstream, because a lot of people really do enjoy it, it just hasn’t been as accessible.

Tapeworthy: How did you start dancing? I know you came from Trinidad, when did you come to Canada, and did your love for ballet start there or here?

Tina: Here, I moved to Canada when I was 3 so I started dancing when I was 5 and my family lived in Mississauga so I just started at a local dance school from the age of 5 until the age of 12, which is when I went to the National Ballet School but I danced pretty much everything offered to me. So I have some experience with Jazz and Tap and Acrobatics and Lyrical dancing.

Actually one of the people I first started off dancing with was a runner up on the American So You Think You Can Dance and choreographs and he was a judge on the show so he’s now established himself very much in the So You Think You Can Dance world. Ironically enough.

Tapeworthy: Just for fun, what’s the last song you played on your iPod.

Tina: Oh boy, (thinks) I can’t remember but I like anything that makes me dance and anything with a good beat and that makes me move. I love Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”. Happy music. I like Happy music!

Tapeworthy: Between Carmen and the modern dances, do you have a preference? Do you enjoy both types?

Tina: I’ve trained my whole life and we’ve trained every day in ballet school to be classical dancers but if I had a choice, I wouldn’t choose classical or modern, I would choose character work. I love more than anything is when I can portray a character. It’s the most fulfilling thing, and regardless of how hard or how easy it is, being in the zone of somebody else is just the most rewarding thing for me.

I think especially when you have a challenging role that is on pointe, and just to be in the character, is massive enough.

Interview edited for length.
Photos: Tina Pereira by Sian Richards.
Tina Pereira and Artsits of the ballet in rehearsals, by Christopher Wahl,
Tina Pereira with Jonathan Renna. Photo by Daniel Neuhas
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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Grey Area - Race and The Call - Play Reviews

Race - Canadian Stage at Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Mamet, Directed by Daniel Brooks
Runs until May 5th 2013

The Call - Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theatre - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Tanya Barfield, Directed by Leigh Silverman
Runs until May 19th 2013. Review based on early preview.

It may be 2013 but the colour of your skin still factors into the life you can and will lead in America. While daily life may not have as many overt incidences of racism or stereotyping as America's sordid past (the Civil War, the Scottsboro Boys, Malcollm X), countless new news stories (like the tragic death of Trayvon Martin) and political issues (like the absurdity in the importance in seeing Obama's birth certificate) keep the issues of being Black in America as a constant simmering issue.

Two recent new dramas attempt to discuss the issues of race in modern America, with Mamet dramatizing things in his usual hot-button scandal laced ways, while Tanya Barfield gently brings the subtle issues of race in a drama about a white yuppie couple who decide to adopt a baby from Africa after their Black lesbian friends return from a trip to Africa.

There are interesting points in David Mamet's Race, now playing at Canadian Stage, with some pointed statements that make for typical juicy quotable Mamet fare but the plot lacks enough bite to truly be controversial or incendiary. The story revolves around a pompous and rich White man Charles Strickland who is accused of raping a Black woman. Strickland hires a team of lawyers that include White laywer Jack Lawson, a Black lawyer Henry Brown, and a younger Black female lawyer, one who seems a match to the supposed victim. The set up, while not unlike a typical episode plotline on The Good Wife, Boston Legal, or The Practice, still has many interesting facets to explore, with issues of White privilege versus the expectations and struggles Blacks must overcome to succeed in America. Unfortunately, the more interesting points are rolled into a typical courtroom case as the lawyers discuss the legal tactics and points that may or may not help their own careers.

The cast has heralded attention for beloved former-Beverly Hills 90210-teen-idol Jason Priestley's presence on the Toronto stage. While Priestley, as Lawson, still seemed to be fitting into his stage shoes, his innate likability made me root for him and while there were some projection problems, I enjoyed his presence and would like to see him do more theatre in the future. However, with Stratford vets Nigel Shawn Williams as Brown, and Cara Ricketts as young lawyer Susan, things are quite unbalanced as Williams and Ricketts easily control the stage in terrific controlled performances in roles that are more archetypes and plot points than actual characters. The biggest deficit though is Matthew Edison as Strickland. Edison is far too likeable and soft to be playing what is supposed to be a pompous rich jerk and the whole plot that hinges on his character doesn't seem to propel itself from Edison's genial nature.

Still, I'm curious to hear what others have to say about Mamet's Race debate. I only wish the play about being Black and White in America had more colour to it.

In The Call, a new play running at Playwrights Horizons (in a co-production with Primary Stages), White couple Annie (Kerry Butler, Xanadu) and Peter (Kelly AuCoin) announce to their Black lesbian friends Rebecca (Eisa Davis, Passing Strange) and Drea (Crystal A. Dickinson, Clybourne Park) that they are going to adopt a baby. When their local first choice doesn't work out, a recent trip by Rebecca and Drea to Africa puts an idea into Annie and Peter who starts the process of adopting a baby from Africa. As the decisions takes hold, issues of a White couple raising a Black baby arrises, although the controversial sparks you would think would arise from their friends don't, as Rebecca and Drea are pretty supportive with the idea. It's other factors that puts doubt into the group, but ultimately, things begin to unravel when a backstory of an almost unrelated nature break things apart. Without revealing the twist, it sort of feels like it comes out of nowhere to add dramatic shock to the story when the initial idea hasn't been fully mined yet.

Add in an so-nice-he's-odd African neighbour, who insists that Annie and Peter go through with the adoption while asking them to bring shipments of donations to Africa at the same time, and The Call sort of falls off the rails when it tries to stuff too many possible controversies without really delving in fully into any one in particular. Major decisions seem glossed over and simply become assumed plot points, while the African neighbour Alemu (Russell G. Jones) seems to spout out prophetic Oprah-like wisdom.

The cast tries to inject as much realism into the promising play, with the most compelling and subtle performances from Eisa Davis, Crystal A. Dickinson and Kelly AuCoin, but the attempt to tie a shocking past to the story rings false and unnecessary for a story already so filled with so many complications and issues.

I appreciated the attempts at thought provoking plays potentially with flaming controversy with the still-hot button issue of race in contemporary America. While there are interesting points and great potential in set ups for Race and The Call, both plays, despite some great performances, aren't quite as scathing as the premise sets up for. Some plot points don't quite add up, and it takes away from the possible truth the plays reaches for. Still, they are the types of plays that cry out to be discussed afterwards and I'm incredibly curious to hear what others have to say about them, and wonder if the colour of my own skin (and that I am neither Black nor White) may have anything to do with my reactions to the play.

Photos of Race by David Hou
Photo of The Call by Jeremy Daniel
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

This is Middle Age - This - Play Review

This - Canadian Stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Melissa James Gibson, Directed by Matthew Jocelyn
Runs until April 13th 2013

This is about this and that. This is about a group of middle aged long-time friends; one who has just lost her husband and trying to move on while caring for an unseen 9 year old; a married couple with a newborn baby; and the token gay friend. This is when they have dinner party and a French Doctor-without-borders joins them and games get misinterpreted which leads to a series of events that start disassembling the group, the marriage, the friendships, all while the French interloper observes as an outsider.

The strong cast of five is stellar with the material. With Yanna McIntosh (everything, including Speaking in Tongues) and Jonathon Young (Tear the Curtain!, Studies in Motion) as the couple dealing with a new baby as well as a new development, while Alon Nashman (Scorched) is wonderfully nurturing and yet pointedly hilarious as Alan, the gay friend with a highly evolved memory. Christian Laurin's Jean Pierre may be the least developed character and is used more as a plot device, but Laurin's   reactions and his final diatribe is so spot on that it explains his existence.

Meanwhile, while it isn't quite as evident as first, since the ensemble works so well together, This becomes truly a piece for Laura Condlin as Jane, the widower being emotionally bounced around while trying to make it through the day as a mother, friend, person.

Matthew Jocelyn opens up the play on Astrid Janson's open set that strips the Berkeley Street Theatre to its bare bones and keeps the lights on the entire theatre while situating some of the audience members onto the stage area, with the actors moving in and out of the audience. While I appreciated the concept, I only wish the audience seating were brought into the stage a bit even more, and close up the performance space a little more to get this closeness effect I believe they were trying to achieve. Still, the bare stage with minimal props lets the drama unfold and reveal itself in the same simplicity as the set harks to.

Gibson's play is often funny between bouts of awkward situations presented as the mess of real life as it invades upon these middle aged friends. While the French character Jean Pierre sometimes feels shoehorned in to move certain plot points, and while the gay friend sometimes feels like the token gay friend in a sitcom, there are still many moments of truths that sear through the play, that ultimately is much ado about ... this... or that.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Le Pain and Suffering - Les Misérables - BluRay/DVD Review

Les Misérables - BluRay and DVD (includes Digital Copy and Ultraviolet)
Available Mar. 22nd 2013

Lots have been said about the film when it came out in cinemas. Between the raves, the backlash, the backlash on the backlash, and the backlash on the backlash on the backlash, somewhere in between, is probably where I land on with the film. A film based on the famous musical by Alain Boubil and Claude Schönberg that I like, but don't think, like many fans, is the best musical ever or some orgasmic response. Still, it's a musical with stunning music that we all know by now, and while there is a level of respect for the original musical (which I have seen on stage several times), translating a musical to film is a totally different game. One that sometime succeeds (Chicago, Hairspray) and sometimes fails (Rent, Nine).

Director Tom Hooper makes some bold choices, and I admire his vision in trying to give us a realistic vision of the despair and emotional heartbreaks in Les Misérables, with live sung-through performances that ante up the dramatic acting at the sake of perfect singing. The "realistic" singing didn't bother me as much as it seems to have bothered many out there. I was fine with sacrificing being perfectly in key for

It was the technical elements that bothered me most about the film, including the camerawork and the stage-looking set design that countered the realistic tone Hooper seemed to be going for. However the shaky cam that is nauseating on the big screen is, while still an unnecessary creative choice, is less bothersome on the small screen in the BluRay/DVD release of Les Mis. The music still sounds great, but now I only wish some of the plotholes were smoothed out between the stage and filming. What one can excuse on stage with theatrical elements, seems to feel very jumpy, or cheesily overdramatic on film (like the whole purpose of Inspector Javert and his motivations).

Still, the performances, from Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, to Hugh Jackman, to Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Colm Wilkinson, Daniel Huttlestone, and so on, are stellar, and despite which way you sway on Russell Crowe's singing, he gives Inspector Javert the heft and a nice counterpoint to Jackman.

The BluRay/DVD set includes features on Victor Hugo's original masterwork, on creating the sets for the film, plus a full commentary with director Tom Hooper.

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Monday, March 04, 2013

Contestworthy: Ann on Broadway!

Holland Taylor is on Broadway this season as ANN, about the feisty Texas governor Ann Richards! Now in previews at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater, and officially opening this Thursday, March 7th! And guess what? I have a pair of tickets to give away to a lucky reader/follower!

Written AND performed by Emmy Award winner Holland Taylor (Two and A Half Men, The Practice) in "a no-holds-barred portrait of Ann Richards, the legendary Texas Governor. The new play brings us face to face with a complex, colorful and captivating character bigger than the state from which she hailed".

Playing to sold-out audiences in Texas, and winning critical acclaim in Chicago and at the Kennedy Center in Washingon, DC., The Lincoln Center Theatre now brings Ann to New York for a limited run.

To enter the Ann on Broadway contest:

- Email me at tapeworthycontest at gmail dot com with the answers, your name and city. Please subject the email: ANN ON BROADWAY CONTEST 

- Answer these trivia questions:
1) Holland Taylor has had an illustrious career in film, theatre and television, but in what film did she play a stern law professor?

2) Ann Richards was ultimately beaten in an election for Texas Governorship by which candidate, who she called "some jerk" at one point in the campaign?

3) Holland Taylor have starred in numerous television shows. Name 2 shows and their respective co-stars who will also appear on Broadway this season.

- Contest closes at 11:59pm EST on Friday, March 8th 2013. A winner will be randomly picked from all correct entries received.

- For ONE BONUS Entry: Share the contest on twitter and include your twitter handle and twitter post in the email.
- For ANOTHER BONUS Entry: Share the contest on Facebook on Public setting and include a link to your Facebook page in the email.

- Tapeworthy is not responsible for the prize. Voucher issued by ANN on Broadway includes 2 tickets to the show on Broadway for a date of your choice (subject to availability). Travel is not included in the prize.  You must present your confirmation to the Box Office when you pick up your tickets. Once an order is confirmed, it cannot be changed. Tickets can ONLY be picked up on the day of the performance. Tickets must be picked up at the Box Office no later than 30 minutes prior to show time or your tickets WILL be released for resale. Released tickets cannot be rescheduled.
Prize has no monetary value and cannot be resold to another party.

- Only one winner will be chosen.
I will ask for further details if you are the winner. Only the one winner will be contacted.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Road to Freedom? - The Power of Harriet T and The Wizard of Oz - Theatre Reviews

The Power of Harriet T! - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Michael Miller, Directed by Tanisha Taitt
Runs until Feb. 22nd 2013

The Wizard of Oz - Ed Mirvish Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, Original Background Music by Harold Stothart, Additional Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Tim Rice, Adapted and Directed by Jeremy Sams

Watching children's theatre, or theatre appropriate for young people, always seems to demand whether judgement should be graded on a curve, and whether it works as a show for the intended, or for all. While I wouldn't want to diminish theatre for young people as any lesser of an artform, the demands towards a younger audience need to address a difference in concentration levels, and an understandable language level, all preferably without underestimating their intelligence and without talking down towards them. What works for young minds may not live up to an adults, and vice versa, but I would like to think that if a show works, it still works.

Two of Toronto's latest theatrical shows that are marketing to a younger audience seemed to have caused various degrees of restlessness in the youngsters at my viewing though also seemed to entertain them on various levels, while my adult mind probably overanalyzed the show more than it should have.

The Power of Harriet T! is the powerful tale of Harriet T., a Black slave who recounts her struggles with her nasty White owner, and her escape via the underground railway to the north and eventually Canada. It is an important historical tale that provides the stage with some haunting imagery, as directed by Tanisha Taitt on Kimberly Purtell's (purposefully) imbalanced set. While the tale may pull no big surprises in the story to the adults in the room (though still no less disturbing), it certainly seemed shocking to the young audience who seemed to justly react to the racism and unjust actions on stage as Harriet T. endured her slave life in the South. Miller's play doesn't pull any theatrical punches and sometimes the dialogue seemed a tad simplified, but it leaves the power of the story, and of the human struggle as its main focus, and that is powerful in itself.

The new revised version of the classic film The Wizard of Oz is brought to you by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and various producers including Warner Brothers, all happily looking to bringing the classic movie to the stage. While I never really thought of The Wizard of Oz film as a musical, it does have numerous songs that have become legendary and classics in the pop culture canon. To fill out a stage musical, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have slipped in many of their own songs into the story of Dorothy and her trip to Oz. Unfortunately, while the road on the Yellow Brick Road has some fun times, the show felt pedestrian, and decent at best.

Lisa Horner does a cackling job hamming it up as The Wicked Witch of the West, while Jamie McKnight and Mike Jackson are wonderfully amusing as The Scarecrow and Tin Man, respectively. Cedric Smith plays the Wizard of Oz with the right amount of thundering misaligned authority. The ensemble seems to be made up of some wonderfully attractive and abled dancers, but who seem wasted here dancing Arlene Phillips' clunky and embarrassing choreographed moves (and I only wished they could be doing the show Chicago instead).

While I did not think Danielle Wade was terrible as Dorothy, I also did not find her central enough to be the focus of the show, despite this being her story. Meanwhile, the dog playing Toto received the biggest applause and you can take that however you want.

There seemed to be a lack of that special magic in this theatre endeavor that made the original movie such a piece of cinematic history. The new songs add very little to the proceedings other than padding out the story, and the use of projections didn't blend very seamlessly into Robert Jones' impressive sets on some occasions. Still, there are moments of joy within the stage show, despite finding myself bored much of the time, and the cast does what it can with the classic material and tries to breathe some depth into a show that is still looking for its own heart.

Photo of The Power of Harriet T! by Mark Seow
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