Sunday, March 22, 2015

Heart on a String - The Daisy Theatre - Play Review

The Daisy Theatre - Factory Theatre Studio Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars) 
Created and Performed by Ronnie Burkett
Runs until Apr. 5th 2015


Ronnie Burkett has created his own famous little world of marionette puppets in a universe of his perverse and darkly humoured twisted plays, but The Daisy Theatre is his latest gift to the stage that tones down the darkness and showcases his beautiful cast of characters in a very funny, and strangely sweet, vaudeville show. The show is apparently improvised and any assortment of his many marionette cast members may appear, but based on the show I saw, Burkett's usual biting humour and tinge of darkness is given a further twist here with a gentle sweetness and hopefulness that elevates The Daisy Theatre from a vaudeville puppet show into a theatrical event that pulls all the right strings.


There's a melancholy self reflection of the raison-d'être of the theatre behind the very funny zingers that poke fun of everything from Canadian theatre to politics and particularly the right wing hold on the current parliament. From the darkness of the stage, the light emanating from the small Daisy Theatre stage, and the heart warming glow from the inanimate objects brought to life by Burkett himself, is simply dazzling and awe inspiring. My jaw remained opened through the entire show in both wonderment and shock and surprise at the magic and the punchlines.

There's a few portions with some audience participation, which often makes me cringe, but kudos to Burkett for his loving interaction (or picking the right people), and making it not only hilariously work, but seemed so perfectly set up and bringing the audience more into his tiny stage space, I momentarily wondered if those audience members were set up (I doubt it but it was seriously a perfect example of how exactly a show should pick audience members to be involved in a show).


I suspect the improvised show always starts and ends with the little character Schnitzel, who will steal your heart while an old stripper may provide a puppet striptease for you, or a puppet ventriloquist will entertain you, meaning you're watching a puppet of a puppet. The creations, both physically in the mechanics and details of the puppet, and in the characters with Ronnie Burkett voicing them all, all comes together in the heart of tiny Schnitzel (and his even tinnier teddy bear).

Photos by Alejandro Santiago
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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Truths and Consequences - Long Story Short, Cake and Dirt, Verité - Theatre Reviews

Long Story Short - 59E59 Theatre B - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)
By Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, based on the play An Infinite Ache by David Schulner, Directed by Kent Nicholson
Runs until Mar. 29th 2015

Cake and Dirt - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Daniel MacIvor, Directed by Amiel Gladstone
Runs until Apr. 12th 2015

Verité - Lincoln Center Theater's Claire Tow Theater - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Nick Jones, Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Runs until Mar. 15th 2015


Long Story Short is a simple little musical about a the long story of a couple from first sort-of-date to beyond, told in a compact 95 minutes. It's a short musical but it covers a lot of ground, going from what seems like a simple, cute little meet-cute romance to a far more intense and emotionally compelling journey of this couple. Think of it as The Last 50 Years, without the time bending twist. Much of the story is a typical straight couple relationship tropes, but with lots of enjoyable songs from Brandon Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, and a tight two-person cast that gives the always enjoyable Bryce Ryness (Hair) and the wonderful Pearl Sun (If/Then) a showcase for their vocals and charms.

What's revolutionary in the musical is that is isn't all that revolutionary, but yet presents an interracial relationship as a matter-of-fact thing and goes from there, presenting it without controversy. It slyly uses the small differencing details in a Chinese-American girl being with a Jewish guy in specific moments in the story but overall, it's just about these two people who fall in love and their struggles in keeping the relationship alive through all the years. It's also finally a specifically written female Asian lead part in a musical that doesn't depend on her being a subservient character in any way, and it's a welcome role in the musical canon.

Sun and Ryness sing Milburn and Vigoda's songs beautifully in this great showcase for a musical writing team I look forward to hearing from more. On a clever efficient set by David L. Arsenault, the action moves around a single bedroom that portrays different housing through the years with some clever minor changes in a set that doesn't actually change. It's an efficient and tight show that shows so much promise for all involved and I can easily see the show being produced regionally and through communities with it's simplistic requirements which will be a great welcome to the musical theatre canon since I'm already itching to go back to see this again.


When a birthday party goes awry because of lies and differing opinions on urban planning, a fractured family becomes even more fractured in Daniel MacIvor's newest play Cake and Dirt. It's nice to see something with a contemporary setting with supposedly relatable and interesting issues about neighbours, family, money, class, and the local park space, but MacIvor buries it amongst a yelling privileged family whose hostility toward each other marks the degradation fallen upon the upper crust of Toronto.

While cast members like Maria Vacratis (as Nana, the help), Bethany Jillard (as troubled daughter Riley), Laara Sadiq (as the new wife to the birthday boy), and Patrick Kwok-Choon (as the neighbour and local city councillor who's been the subject of the discussions at the party) manage to enliven the party as much as possible with grounded performances and some quippy zingers, it all gets bogged down watching privileged people be annoying, in the ultimate case of "#whitepeopleproblems" and as MacIvor hammers in that these people are so spoiled that they want their cake and to not even eat it too (as every character keeps turning down the cake offered). The satire gets buried under all the yelling from the main drunk couple and with shuffling of chronology to play with our understanding of the events of this terrible birthday party, things don't quite come together until the final scenes when Kwok-Choon and Jillard are able to bring some reflection and understanding (and realistic connection) to the story.


When a young mother living with her husband in her sister-in-law's place finally gets an offer from a mysterious publishing company, she seems suspicious of their book offer that sounds too-good-to-be-true. Eventually, the money is too much to turn down and Jo decides to write her memoir but things get twisted from then, when she suspects the publishers are purposely affecting her life to create exciting moments to write. Verité is a fun interesting concept, with the opportunity to be a great satire and surreal play on the meta factor of the stories we tell, what constitutes as reality and how far will we go for creative pursuits.

Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect, The Help) is wonderfully grounded and lovely as Jo, and her possible mysterious interloper played by Eben Moss-Bachrach gives a dashing counter to Jo's writing woes. But despite some deliciously campy publishers (Matt McGrath and Robert Sella), the play never quotes hits all its satirical and surrealistic marks and the post-set up seems particularly muddled and misses the potential the play seems to promise.

Photo of Long Story Short by Matthew Murphy
Photo of Cake and Dirt by Jeremie Warshafsky
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Child's Play - Treasure Island, Pinocchio, The Heart of Robin Hood - Play Reviews

Treasure Island - National Theatre in the Olivier Theatre - London, UK - ** (out of 5 stars)
By Robert Louis Stevenson, Adapted by Bryony Lavery, Directed by Polly Findlay
Runs until Apr. 8th 2015

Pinocchio - Tout à Trac at Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written and Directed by Hugo Bélanger based on the story by Carlo Collodi, English translation by Bobby Theodore
Runs until Mar. 21st 2015

The Heart of Robin Hood - Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Farr, Directed by Gísli Örn Gardarsson
Runs until Mar. 29th 2015

With amazing sets and lighting that creates the perfect atmosphere for classic stories transported to the stage, in a large and epic sized production for Treasure Island at the Olivier Theatre, and in small compact, but still gloriously clever and epically magical set for the touring Pinocchio, these two productions certainly set up a wonderfully illusive fantasy world. Meanwhile, we're deep in the heart of Sherwood forest on the simple yet epically fun looking set for The Heart of Robin Hood where a giant grass hill takes centre stage but transforms into a castle, but used essentially as a big slide and jungle gym for Marian, Robin Hood and his merry men to bounce around on.

Meanwhile, translating these classic stories, seems less successful at times. However much like some other classics I have revisited recently, some of these stories have become so infamous in themselves that rediscovering the actual details of the stories reveals seems to lead into some disappointment or curious confusion. We tend to remember a collection of "best" parts and forget the story developmental moments that moves the story along. The shows have great sets but need a better story set up.


The new revised Treasure Island, that gives the adventurous story a female slant but there is a lot of exposition and despite the magnificent sets of ships, islands, caves and more, the show feels like it plods along and is less an adventurous journey than a slow search for some excitement. Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who) has fun with the role of Long John Silver and keeps things alive as our nefarious villain but he can only save the moments he's on stage and there's a lot of plot to get to before he even appears. The show turns Jim into a girl (still referred to as Jim) who leads the story but in Bryony Lavery's script, the girl narrates a huge amount of the story which is incredibly dull to watch. At least the amazing sets by Lizzie Clachan are a treasure for the eyes. Sadly, the rest of the play seems to sink by it's expository weight, with little adventure, excitement or humour to be found.


The small but ingenious set for Pinocchio holds an abundance of surprises, and when a wooden log turns into Pinocchio under our eyes, it's quite a feat of theatre prop magic. While the story starts off strong in its set up, with the kids in attendance giggling with joy and silly physical comedic mishaps, things slow down more when the actual adventure begins and Pinocchio encounters different characters along the way as he tries to avoid school. While the magic of Patrice Charbonneau-Brunelle's sets and costumes never ceases to amaze, and Joannie d'Amours props and Marie-Pierre Simard's Pinnochio design are fun and beautifully done, the pacing feels like it could be sped up in the middle for a tighter show.


The Heart of Robin Hood refers actually to Maid Marion, so we find ourselves in a Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood is a criminal who steals only for himself and his not-so-merry men, while Marion is off to seek adventure away from the kingdom in search of the false legend of the good Robin Hood she thought who stole for the poor. It's a nice flip of the classic story, and sets up for Marion to become the adventurous and action packed hero while slowly turning Robin Hood towards good, while fighting off the true villain in Prince John, but unfortunately, the whole set up is muddled and cluttered and it takes a while before everything is clearly set in place. It's not until act 2 when the story is clearly defined that we can truly enjoy and revel in the joys of the show, which has a lot of fun on Börkur Jónsson's immense green hill set that lets Marian, Robin Hood and the rest of the cast slide down the height of the stage.

With wonderful songs by the American band Parsonfield, who sing on stage in interludes that makes the play with songs practically into a musical, they intermix with the cast that only confuses the story but enlighten the joyous mood. If the darker tones and scenes were cut or toned down, while the comedic camp amped up, the show would make for a delightful piece for the family. By the end, the show seemed to justify the intermix of songs within the non-musical play, but some clarity on the villains (with Prince John and the henchmen and sometimes Robin Hood and his merry men getting things confusing) and some clarity of the plot (there seems to be some unnecessary threads that go on too long) would make this very acrobatic play the entertaining show it potentially could be.

Izzie Steele is a delight as Marion, and Christian Lloyd brings the right amount of camp to servant Pierre. There are some acrobatic merry men/henchmen and there are some truly magical stage moments from the creative team using the fun looking set as a playground.

Photo of Pinocchio by Jérémie Battaglia
Photo of The Heart of Robin Hood by Joan Marcus
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