Thursday, April 30, 2015

Power Play - 'Tis Pity She's a Whore & Creditors - Play Reviews

'Tis Pity She's a Whore - Red Bull Theater at The Duke on 42nd Street - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by John Ford, Directed by Jesse Berger
Runs until May 16th, 2015

Creditors - Coal Mine Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars) 
Written by August Strindberg, Adapted by David Greig, Directed by Rae Ellen Bodie
Runs until May 17th, 2015

'Tis pity that even in 2015, while watching a 400 and 100 year old play, there's a realization that little progress in the underlying tones of misogynistic attitudes have changed. Despite how far females and the feminist movements have come, watching these old plays where revenge on a woman is at its crux, still seems horrifyingly familiar and relevant. Kudos to the scrappy theatre companies Red Bull Theater and Coal Mine Theatre for taking these old plays and revealing the hypocrisy in the societal set ups and expectations we have created. All in dramatic but entertaining and humorous productions with an overall wink that elevates these old dramas seem ageless and still relevant.


For a 400 year old play, the infamous John Ford play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is still incredibly disturbing and somehow still relevant in its underlying message of the patriarchal system that lets misogyny make victims of women. Having just seen the play for the first time last year in a terrific production at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (and landing on my Best of 2014 list), it's quite an unravelling of plots that are instigated when a handsome young man Giovanni (a winning Matthew Amendt), twisting the words of Friar into an approval (an perfectly exasperated Christopher Innvar), confesses his love to his sister Annabella (an endearing and lovely Amelia Pedlow) who soon confesses her reciprocal love. While their passionate love begins to bloom, their father Signor Florio (Philip Goodwin) has three suitors for Annabella and thus sets the unravelling of true love, societal expectations and revenge and bloody murder when the men do not get their way.

The Red Bull Theater production, directed by a founding member Jesse Berger, keeps the pace as we are introduced to the multiple characters surrounding the tumultuous incestual affair while swiftly manoeuvring through the serious and solid tone that still manages to weave in a lot of surprising humour and a sly wink at its ridiculously crazy events. The only thing missing seemed to be a more overt condoning of the ancestral affair by Annabella's tutoress Putana which seems to lessen the later blow in dramatic twists, but Franchelle Stewart Dorn plays Putana with a lovely subtle nuance that helps push us to joining her in approving the taboo relationship.


A strong cast keeps the duelling undertones working symbiotically and includes a terrifically strong and firm Lord Soranzo (Clifton Duncan), his jilted ex out for revenge Hippolita (a fantastically sly Kelley Curran), Soranzo's servant Vasques (a droll Derek Smith), the second suitor Grimaldi (a great Tramell Tillman) and the hopeless Bergetto (a hilarious Ryan Garbado) and his servant Poggio (Ryan Farley) and the eventual love interest for Bergetto, Philotis (the beauty of innocence in Auden Thornton).

Meanwhile Rocco Sisto, in the small but crucial part of the overlord Cardinal, perfectly voices the final words and title of the play which cements the harsh reality of the societal set up that betrays its women that the play portrays (in its crazy, dark, deeply disturbing, yet wildly entertaining way)!


When a young, naive husband is given advice from a mysterious older man while at some seaside resort, the bright eyed love of Adolph begins to dim when he begins wondering if his wife Tekla is just using him and his social status and why she treats him more like her little brother instead of a husband. Tekla literally calls her husband "little brother" and refers to herself as the big sister. The mysterious man Gustav sets into motion a series of doubts which turns into arguments and darkening thoughts, in an ultimate tale of male revenge. While the plot twists are easy to see from afar, and the play sometimes works a little too hard setting up the obvious machinations, the fun in August Strindberg's play is watching it all play out and seeing how some men see themselves as "Creditors" to a woman's life.

What's interesting is that Tekla is a very modern thinking woman and Adolph was a gentle and giving man who let Tekla make her own decisions while catering to her whims and desires and it worked in a forward thinking understanding. That is until the interloper meets Adolph. It's an intense but humorous play and allows for some great interplay between two-thirds of the three person cast. With Adolph and Gustav, then Adolph and Tekla and finally Tekla and Gustav hashing things out.


In Coal Mine Theatre's intimate and effective production directed by Rae Ellen Bodie, the play will only work with actors that balance the piece out in it's perfectly built trifecta and Noah Reid, Liisa Repo-Martell and Hardee T. Lineham are superb in the ever shifting weight of the piece.


Noah Reid, with his cherubic innocent face, is perfectly cast as the innocently coaxed husband who manages to slowly build a spine and anger at being played by his own wife. While Reid may feel slightly too modern for this 100 year old piece, and his crippled walk may not be the most convincing, emotionally he balances Adolph's changing heart in a stirring and simmering performance. Lissa Repo-Martell, whose intense eyes and hearty laugh easily conveys Tekla's free-spirited but feisty nature is exactly what is needed to convincingly portray Tekla's story and questioned emotions. Meanwhile, Hardee T. Lineham gives Gustav the right weight and mysterious nature that all makes sense as the plot reveals itself.

This is the third play in Coal Mine's inaugural season and there has been a lot of buzz and critical acclaim for their first two productions (Bull and The Motherfucker with the Hat) and I'm very sorry I missed them. However I am excited that this new theatre company (lead by Ted Dykstra and Diana Bentley) has emerged in the east end on the Danforth (below the Magic Oven Pizza) and look forward to its future developments!

'Tis Pity She's a Whore photos by Richard Termine
Creditors photos by Michael Cooper Photographic
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Monday, April 27, 2015

School No More - Brantwood - Musical Theatre Review

Brantwood: 1920-2020 - Brantwood High at Theatre Sheridan - Sheridan College - Oakville, ON
Music and Lyrics by Bram Gielen, Anika Johnson, and Britta Johnson, Created, Written and Directed by Mitchell Cushman and Julie Tepperman
Runs until May 3rd, 2015

For their final show project, the students and staff at Sheridan College's Theatre Sheridan have taken a huge ambitious project to put on a musical immersive show and while I won't put a grade to the unprofessional show, it's only unprofessional in technical pay terms and Brantwood is an amazing success to the creators, the producers and production staff, and the incredibly talented student cast that forms this thrilling and immense theatrical experience.

Welcome back to Brantwood High! As an alum, you're going to be returning on a school bus to the hallowed halls of your youth where surprises will be abound as you go back to high school.


When Sleep No More opened in New York after touring in several cities before, it seemed to cement the validity of the immersive theatre experience. It became a critical and commercial success and has become the professional standard for immersive theatre. (For those uninitiated, audience members wear masks and walk within the many rooms of the "McKittrick Hotel" and voyeuristically watch as Macbeth is happening in the style of Hitchcock's Rebecca, throughout the 6 floors full of intricately set decorated rooms and explore at their own leisure. It's the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure theatre and it is exciting and a thrill to the senses).

Toronto has seen some great immersive shows including Auto Show, The Gladstone Variations, Passion Play and if you notice that Julie Tepperman is the connecting factor, with the help from Mitchell Cushman on Passion Play, you'll know that this team is at the forefront of the immersive theatre experience in the Toronto theatre scene. Commissioned by Associated Dean Michael Rubinoff for a project for the senior class of the musical theatre program, Tepperman and Cushman created a project that utilizes the assets of the Sheridan students and production team but they had to up the ante by creating an immersive theatrical piece that is also a MUSICAL.


The premise is pretty simple, but I won't spoil the details, but the story entails the ghosts of students past from every decade of Brantwood school (using a converted former school in Oakville), where the ghosts roam the halls and we, as alums, are revisiting the space where we lived our formative teen years and rediscovering youths past (and future). When Principal Headley (from generations of Pricipal Headley's) announces the school will be closing to be turned into lofts, making this the final reunion for Brantwood High, we are invited to mourn the loss of the beloved school while reliving the past.

Add in an amazing array of catchy and clever songs from Bram Gielen, Anika Johnson and Brita Johnson, and a huge and talented student cast perfectly suited to play students, and we get a maze full of stories and characters that take us visitors through the hallways and classrooms, cafeteria and gym, the change rooms, bathrooms and janitor's closets and all the secret spaces we used to make out in high school.

If there's a "problem" with the show, it's that with about 16 stories and countless characters, with many students playing different characters in different timelines (but with a seemingly connecting theme), there's so much to take in and explore that split second decisions must be made in what you want to see. With characters moving about from classrooms to classrooms, through the halls, sometimes singing songs, often in the midst of some dramatic teen crisis, there is an overwhelming choice of stories to choose to see. Half the fun is trying to piece together the stories and characters and how they may interconnect with the scenes you end up seeing, but it also lends itself to want to return, as I did a second time 2 nights after my first visit, and I'm still itching to go back again to see more.

The students of Sheridan Theatre are an amazing roster of superb talent and without naming favourites, it can be easily said that there will be a lot of future musical theatre stars within this group.  Gielen, and the Johnson sisters are also definitely musical writers to listen for, with a brilliant opening song that sets the tone and mood from the get go. Meanwhile, Tepperman and Cushman have had fun with many of the high school stereotypes and twisted and collided the stories together, with some incredible details and fun hidden gems, aided by the impressive technical team and a stage management team that must be tightly coordinated to make the show work like clockwork (and with synchronized clocks in the entire school, you can find clues to events hidden amongst sets and props around the school!).

Brantwood is simply an tremendous effort that surpassed my expectations and while some crowd control issues could be tweaked, the show itself is simply amazing and a lot of fun and just begs for repeat viewings. Here's hoping for a transfer to a Toronto location or a remount so that more "alums" can experience what happens when there's School No More.

Vance at

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Thrown For a Loop - Infinity - Play Review

Infinity - The Extraspace at Tarragon Theatre in a co-production with Volcano Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Hannah Moscovitch, Directed by Ross Manson
Runs until May 3rd, 2015

As Jonathan Larson put it, how do you measure a year in the life? How about love?


Hannah Moscovitch's newest play looks at what time is, but in a more scientific way. When a physicist Elliot (an awkwardly loveable Paul Braunstein) working on his PhD on string theory and time and the theory of everything, falls in love with musician and composer Carmen (Amy Rutherford), we see their relationship jump from first meet to pregnancy scare to marriage and beyond. From a first-meet practical view on love and sex, to expectations of giving up ones time as a signal of love, we see the minefield of bumpy moments in Carmen and Elliot's relationship. Intertwined between the various phases of Carmen and Elliot's relationship are the ramblings of a 20s something girl Sarah-Jean (Haley McGee, now officially in everything) who may be incredibly smart, but is also terrible at love. The two story lines eventually collide as we figure out the emotional impact from the causes to the effects we've seen in the other storyline.

It's a lot of mind exploding ideas but the characters manage to make most of it intelligible and understandable despite the complicated theories of what time actually is and if it even exists.

With a haunting score by Njo Kong Kie* played by violinist Andréa Tyniec on a beautifully simple set by Teresa Przybylski with a sweeping screen that goes offstage and looks like it continues on to infinity, Infinity the play is a lovely production of a play with big ideas about space and time, memories and the present, and how we prepare for the future as time and love intertwine in separate theories, (or at least according to Elliot). While the overall plot is fascinating and teeming with ideas, the individual scenes occur with mixed success, and I found Elliot and Sarah-Jean's moments tended to work better, but there was often an abundance of yelling or exasperation when Carmen interacted with Elliot, and while I understood it seemed required for the overall dramatic arc, it often felt more like plot machinations or a stereotypical response distilled into a dramatic outburst.

Then there's also a beautifully choreographed moment in the show when things begin unravelling but the moment seems at odds with the rest of the show (that or I completely missed the ingenuity or point). Nonetheless, there's an interesting balance of scientific talk and an emotional core with the characters which both get their due platform in the play.

* In full disclosure, Kie is an acquaintance I have done business with
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at

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