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.

Vance at

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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)

Photo by David Hou Vance at

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