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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