Archive | August, 2012

Summerworks Picks: Part 3

18 Aug

Another round of impressive shows from the Summerworks festival!

 

Terre Haute

Terre Haute marks a stark departure for director Alistair Newton and his company, Ecce Homo. Their trademark style of ironic white-faced cabaret that has served them well in previous Summerworks productions The Pastor Phelps Project and The Ecstasy Of Mother Teresa, is notably absent, replaced by simple and profound naturalism – a choice dictated in part by Edmund White’s dialogue heavy script.

Based on Gore Vidal’s essays on and correspondence with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Terre Haute imagines a series of meetings and interviews between partially fictionalized versions of the legendary writer and the notorious domestic terrorist in the days leading up to the latter’s execution. Through their discourse, James (Vidal) and Harrison (McVeigh) develop an odd sort of chemistry; even though their personal backgrounds and perspectives on morality are wildly different, they find kinship in their mutual disdain for the arrogance of American government, in their shared intellectual curiosity, and even in their common status as sexual and romantic outsiders. It’s a challenging pseudo-love story that is unambiguously anti-violence, but also makes the point that acts of violence – and the motives of those behind them – ought not to be universally dismissed as nothing more than the senseless work of the deranged.

Terrence Bryant is compelling as James, balancing the author’s default haughtiness with vulnerability and grace, while Todd Michael Sandomirsky’s treatment of Harrison is magnetic, his cold burning eyes and chiselled features contradicting the humanity with which he imbues his character. Newton’s direction is elegant and effective, allowing White’s conversation to dominate while nudging the audience perspective through the occasional rotation of the set and characters.

 

When it Rains

When it Rains is described in the Summerworks program as “a live-action existential graphic novel”, and impressively, this production from writer/director Anthony Black of Halifax-based 2b Theatre delivers on that lofty promise.

Using only a digital projector (the sole light source), a wall of flats, and a scant few props, the creative team paints a bold and block-print like world of pixels for the characters to inhabit. Simple animation elements enhance the minimalist look while a cinematic soundscape fleshes out the constructed reality. Clever and convincing illusions, like that of a couple seen top down sleeping together in bed, add to the theatrical magic.

The story – that of two interwoven couples facing the decay of their relationships and grappling with the unyielding nature of tragedy – is just as strong as the technical elements. Dry and funny, and augmented by uncluttered dialogue, Black’s script charms as much as it challenges. Detached and all-knowing text and voice-over elements reinforce the themes of fate and pre-determination that lace the work.

A strong cast and imaginative direction (especially given the two-dimensional restrictions of the piece) allow When it Rains to reach its full potential.

 

Terminus

The centrepiece of this Irish roller coaster ride is Mark O’Rowe’s stunngingly dark, disturbing, and equally colourful and imaginative script. The story takes place over one night in Dublin and is woven together via the first-person perspectives of a headstrong help-line volunteer on a moralistic mission, a young woman saved from death by a supernatural creature, and a greasy male wallflower with a sinister hobby. What makes O’Rowe’s words particularly impressive is that the entire piece is spoken in sort of broken rhyme – present enough to add lyrical grace, transparent enough that one never gets the sense the characters’ natural dialogue has been contorted in the name of gimmickry.

The rock-solid cast, comprised of Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus, and Adam Wilson, deliver painfully convincing performances, while director Mitchell Cushman makes some bold and effective choices, such as seating the audience on the stage with the actors mere feet away and thus eliminating any sense of comforting distance. An otherworldly lighting design by Nick Blais is the ominous icing on the cake.

 

Summerworks Picks: Part 2

14 Aug

Here are some more stand-out productions participating in this year’s Summerworks festival!

 

Iceland

From writer Nicolas Billon and directed by Ravi Jain, Iceland is set largely in a swank downtown Toronto condo and is structured as a series of three narrative monologues each delivered from a spot-lit chair. It’s a simple set up for a rich piece of storytelling that artfully weaves the three monologues together into a cohesive and circular whole. Money acts as a thematic centrepiece, although it serves to inform rather than overshadow the more important human elements.

Iceland’s unique characters (an Estonian student turned call girl, a ladder climbing real estate agent, and an unstable Christian conservative) share the same world, but each speak and act with such distinct style and perspective that the experience is very much like watching three separate but interconnected plays – a fact that speaks to both Billon and Jain’s versatility as artists. The notable cast of Christine Horne, Kawa Ada, and Claire Calnan all deliver excellent performances, but it is Horne’s delicate and understated naturalism that packs the most deceptively powerful punch.

 

Artaud: Un Portrait en Decomposition

“Decomposition” is an apt adjective to use in conjunction with Antonin Artaud, surrealist poet and rebellious theatre maker. This artist of alienation (his most extreme works would have even left Brecht scratching his head) was eccentric and misunderstood – a status no doubt exacerbated by his bouts with mental illness and drug abuse. His personal trajectory was not always a happy one, and towards the end of his life he was largely isolated save for a very few dedicated friends.

Creators Adam Paolozza and Michelle Smith can be commended for their artful restraint. They wisely do not play biographer by attempting to explain Artaud or his inner workings via transparently expositional monologues, or put him up on a pedestal as an unsung hero, but rather use his own words to paint an evocative portrait of the complex and enigmatic man. Paolozza, who also plays Artaud, delivers the entire piece in French (accompanied by English surtitles) doing justice to the poet’s words, and to his manic energy too, at times writhing and galloping with abandon.

Artaud: un portrait en decomposition is a well crafted, organic, and thankfully three dimensional homage to an artist whose work is now more commonly found in classrooms and textbooks than on stage.

 

Your Side, My Side, and the Truth

The Summerworks roster is often heavily coloured by issues of social justice, politics, and other chin-stroking material. That is not to say that there aren’t a few feel-good (and intelligent) antidotes in the mix. Atomic Vaudeville’s previous smash hit Ride the Cyclone is one perfect example, as is this year’s Your Side, My Side, and the Truth from writer/actor Rebecca Auerbach.

Charming without being annoyingly quirky, smart without being overwritten, relatable without being generic, and moving without being maudlin, Auberbach’s story about modern relationships strikes the perfect tone. Drugs, blowjobs, yoga, hangovers, and STDs all firmly ground Auerbach’s characters in urban twenty-something reality while matter-of-fact voice over narration gives her piece a literary edge.

Of the capable cast members, Auerbach herself shines brightest as Renate, an easy going hedonist whose thick hide is challenged by an unexpected romance.

 

Huff

Actor/Writer Cliff Cardinal (whose 2011 Summerworks show Stich turned a lot of heads) applies his comedic sensibilities to painting the some of the darker realities of contemporary native life in this compelling one man show. Using the story of two young brothers as a means to explore issues like gas huffing (in case you wondered what the title referred to), alcohol abuse, suicide, and other nastiness, Cardinal puts a human face on headlines that still seem all too familiar.

Cardinal spins this tragic material into theatrical gold with imaginative dream sequences, personified talking animals and video games, more laugh out loud moments than you think would be possible considering the subject matter, and a challenging moment of fourth wall breaking that had audience members yelling out in genuinely concerned protest.

Director Karin Randoja and designer Elizabeth Kantor support Cardinal’s script and performance with lively staging and a simple but visually effective and multipurpose set.

 

Petrichor

Writer/Director Erin Brandenburg, along with her company Kitchenband Productions, is back and wooing audiences again with their trademark combination of rural Ontario storytelling and folksy musical interludes played on unusual and often homemade instruments.

Unlike their previous productions, Reesor and Pelee, which were both set in the past, Petrichor is the tale of a modern day tomato farm near Leamington, and the love that blossoms between the boss’ son and a young migrant Mennonite worker. It’s a simple and tender story, and an authentic glimpse into the world of those who provide the sustenance on which we live day to day. It’s refreshing to be reminded that while many of us grapple with mundane problems like subway delays and line ups at Starbucks, there are others in this province whose livelihoods can be made or broken by nothing more than the whims of rainfall (incidentally, ‘petrichor’ refers to the distinct smell of rain hitting dry earth).

Brandenburg fills the stage with visual appeal, using subtle animation, shadow play, and plenty of rustic set pieces, while music director (and cast member) Andrew Penner provides a soothing and evocative soundscape.

What made this reviewer’s experience particularly memorable was that, unbeknownst to the patrons enjoying the performance inside, a light rain shower was simultaneously passing over outside, and upon exiting the theatre audience members were treated to the real scent of petrichor. Magical.

 

Summerworks Picks: Part 1

11 Aug

We’ve been theatre-hopping like hipster jackrabbits, checking out what Summerworks has to offer. Here are some of the highlights so far!

 

Ally and Kev

This dark and unsettling tale of revenge from writer/director Jason Maghanoy is not easy to watch, but impossible to look away from. Like Hannah Moscovitch’s 2011 Summerworks entry, Little One, Ally and Kev‘s central characters are a sibling duo with some serious issues – with sister Ally harbouring the bulk of them. Impressively, Maghanoy and cast member Cara Gee’s flesh out Ally’s disturbingly manipulative nature without veering into bad guy cliche territory, while veteran Rosemary Dunsmore injects a well needed dose of humanity into the mix. Additional touches like Alaina Perttula’s tone-setting lighting and the unexpectedly heart-wrenching use of lipstick further enhance the piece.

 

Facts

A taught and nuanced work from writer/director Arthur Milner, Facts explores middle-east politics, religion, justice, science, and the complicated relationships betwixt all four using the investigation of the murder of a high profile American archaeologist in the West Bank as a framework. Milner’s script is heady and pointed without being preachy, and offers some fresh and unexpected dynamics between the Palestinian and Israeli detectives and their suspect. Milner also deserves kudos for bravely bringing scripture into the argument – a facet of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that doesn’t often get a lot of play from major media outlets, or even other theatrical works with a similar geo-political theme.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Milner has the powerhouse cast of Sam Kalilieh, Richard Greenblatt, and Alex Poch-Goldin along for the ride; all three actors deliver expert performances and exude tense chemistry.

The program notes mention that Facts is going to be touring the West Bank and Israel this fall. I suspect that the work will be warmly received by Toronto’s distant and left-leaning theatre community, but I personally cannot wait to hear how audiences will respond when it is performed in the belly of the beast.

 

Pieta

This translation of Danish playwright Astrid Saalbach’s work offers a darkly comic window into one middle-aged businesswoman’s troubled and alcohol soaked existence. Details of her fractured family life, imploding career, and increasing social isolation, are revealed to the only conversation partner she has: a dead man sixteen years her junior she discovers next to her in her hotel room bed. What makes Pieta stand out is the very real sense of decay it presents; one is charmed by the woman’s light-headed and polite nature at the top of the piece, but pathos is the only sentiment left standing by the time the curtain falls.

A sadly believable and naturalistic performance from Tamsin Kelsey makes the experience feel that much more genuine, and director Sarah Garton Stanley manages to keep things interesting even while confining her lonely protagonist to a narrow strip of the already small Passe Muraille Backspace. Set designer Amy Keith also deserves a nod for her compact hotel room which is both an achievement in aesthetics and efficiency.

 

Summerworks 2012 Preview

9 Aug

With the Fringe now a hazy beer soaked memory, it’s time for Summerworks to take the spotlight. Unlike the Fringe, Toronto’s other major summer theatre and arts festival (opening tonight) offers a smaller and jury-selected slate of productions which often means the overall quality is markedly less hit and miss – even if it does lack some of the hedonistic “anything-goes” quality of the Fringe.

In addition to conventional theatre productions from a mix of established artists and promising up-and-comers from across the country, Summerworks also offers an impressive concert series featuring performers such as Hawksley Workman and Buck 65. As if that wasn’t enough to satiate even the most gluttonous culture-consumer, the festival also offers an impressive swath of performance art, and cabaret performances.

Instead of playing Nostradamus and trying to predict what will and won’t be worth seeing before the first bum has even warmed the first seat, we wanted to let participating artists speak for themselves via a questionnaire about their shows and thoughts on the festival experience. Here are their answers!

 


 

Les Demimondes

Your Name:
Alex Tigchelaar

Your Role:
Writer/cast member

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
When given the opportunity to comment on (mis)representations of themselves throughout the history of art and media, what does culture about sex work by non sex workers look like through the eyes of sex workers and their allies? See past the moral panics, the conflation with trafficking and the strident misapprehension into a world where we reflect with cleverness and comedy (and some shit-kicking dance numbers) on our own truths.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
You can lead a whore
To culture but you can’t make
Her think. That’s bullshit.

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
Seeing as many shows as I possibly can and immersing myself in the wonderful bubble of Summerworks—the parties, musical events and art performances are peerless and cap off the summer so nicely.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Lack of funds and a city that likes to trumpet its creative significance on the world stage without supporting its local artists. Also, Richard Florida and his bullshit Creative City theories.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
I don’t wish to engage in any more controversy than I already have but I will say that I have heard rumours that Michael Rubenfeld is banging Sunny the mascot.

 

 


 

Lies, Damn Lies & Magic Tricks

Your Name:
James Alan

Your Role:
Writer, cast member, chief liar

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
Pushing the limits of what’s real and what’s fake, Lies seamlessly blends fact, fiction and outright deception to make you wonder what’s real and what’s not. All of the stories are true, except for the bits we made up. All of the magic is real, depending on your definition of real.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Things said honestly
Made indistinguishable
From total rubbish

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
Performing in an air conditioned theatre! (Some of the stuff at the performance bar looks pretty boss too.)

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
The terrible misconception that many people have seemed to have developed that in order to be art, it needs to be very serious – or worse yet dark. Not enough realize that things that are humorous or uplifting can also be profound.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
I already made my prediction for the year: http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/764028–magician-correctly-predicts-spec-s-front-page

 

 


 

Breathe For Me

Your Name:
Jesse Stong

Your Role:
Writer and Producer

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
For fifty years Edna and Edith have shared their toronto home. On this day in late fall a queer idea is put on the table and secrets from the past are exposed, challenging their lifelong friendship. A finely aged comedic drama, two-hander.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Late fall in our home
Two old hearts breathe our secrets
From the dark closet

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
Alistair Newton’s play, The AMY Project, The Medicine Man, music series, parties and sleeping after.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
[No answer given]

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
[No answer given]

 

 


 

A Song for Tomorrow

Your Name:
Gein Wong

Your Role:
Director and Sound/Projection Designer

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
It looks at the entire life span of an immigrant couple who would never talk about their lives if you met them in real life.   Also awesome about the show is that it moves in reverse time.  It’s Memento’s reverse world meets Raymond Carver’s minimalist text.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
May stands with a pic
She walks off never looking
He lies on the floor

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
There’s so many good shows this year with so little time – I’m in preproduction for Eventual Ashes‘ next show Hiding Words (for you) at Enwave Theatre in September, but I’m still going to  make time to see as many things as possible, including Aneemah’s Spot, Medicine Boy, Marine Life, Dutchman, to name a few.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Having the general public realize how talented we are.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
If I knew what would make the headlines, I’d already be jumping in and doing it!  Well, maybe I would make my fellow producer, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard do it!

 

 


 

Facts

Your Name:
Dan Daley

Your Role:
Producer

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
Inspired by a true story, this profound murder mystery adeptly navigates the social and political territory as two detectives, one Palestinian, the other Israeli, work together to solve an intricate case. Their only remaining suspect, an Israeli settler, proves to be highly illusive: he’s guilty of something, but of what? In “Bon Cop, Bad Cop” fashion the duo debates over issues of religion, politics and law before finding a mutual distaste for their captive suspect.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Political cops
tackle murder mystery
West Bank scenery

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
The music series at the Theatre Centre. It’s an excellent showcase of Canadian talent and this year it has been designed by some great artists.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Keeping the work accessible and public. Too often we get entrapped in our circle of fellow artists and we forget that we’re making work for an audience, an audience made up of a diverse community. If we fail to capture their attention, then we aren’t doing our job, even if the attention we get is negative, at least people, other than our colleagues, care about it. 

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
Facts will make headlines this year because its non-apologetic dialogue tackles issues of politics and racism in a part of the world that continues to exist as one of the most contested places to live. Palestinian sympathizers will see this play and have a much different experience than Israeli supporters and that is a conversation this play will generate.

 



 

Petrichor

Your Name:
Erin Brandenburg

Your Role:
Writer, director, producer

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
Petrichor: (meaning) The smell of rain on dry ground.  A play with music about a family of migrant workers who are Mennonites from Mexico on a vegetable farm in Southern Ontario.  Told with a live band playing instruments made from farm machinery and original music by acclaimed musicians  Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players) and Henry Adam Svec.  A play about hope and land, love and loss and how you find love hoeing a row of tomatoes.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Hoeing tomatoes
Smell of the rain on dry ground
Can stop a work day

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
So many great shows!  Lots at the music series, hanging out and having a beer.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Right now my biggest issue is trying to figure out rehearsing a show and breastfeeding at the same time.  (Mother of a 4 month old)  But it’s always a question of resources isn’t it?  Finding them, sharing them.  Giving opportunities to those who need them.  But i also think we need to look outside our own little world of theatre and try to connect to the larger experience of being human.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
Hmm – most successful festival ever?  High quality of work and artists draws record high numbers?

 

 


 

The Frenzy of Queen Maeve

Your Name:
Anthony MacMahon

Your Role:
Writer/Director

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
Winner of the 2012 Ottawa Little Theatre Playwriting competition, The Frenzy of Queen Maeve follows Aisling, a young woman growing up in Northern Ireland during the troubles. She falls in love with an IRA officer and a British landowner and must decide what she values more: her country or her safety.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Bombs over Belfast
A deadly love triangle
The hardest choices

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
Terminus, Barrel Crank, FRANCE, or the Niqab.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Visibility.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
I find controversy to be as unpredictable as the winds, but I would say it’s a toss up between “The Hearing of Jeremy Hinzman” (another must see) and the hiring of Sunny, the SummerWorks mascot. He’s a trickster.

 



 

When it Rains

Your Name:
Anthony Black

Your Role:
Writer/Director

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
A live-action existential graphic novel. Kind of a job story for atheists. When two couples are beset with misfortune, communication fractures, relationships crumble. Lit with a projector and staged in a very planar way, making for a theatre-in low-relief design.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Communication fractures
Behaviour is surprising
These silly humans

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
Shows by Anton Piatigorsky, Rosa Laborde, and a bunch of others. Meeting new people.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Getting onto the mainstages of our larger institutions.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
I like keeping the drama onstage.




 

Haunted

Your Name:
Amelia Sargisson

Your Role:
Cast Member

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
We’re all haunted inasmuch as we all have a past which shapes our present reality and informs our current relationships. Whether we’ve endured hardship or inflicted it, or passed with relative ease through the years, we cannot deny the fears and expectations we have accumulated. I think Daniel Karasik’s play asks: can we love in spite of (or given) that? And where – if anywhere – can we turn for help in overcoming that which haunts us?

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Wounded hearts crave love
Embracing unknown frontiers
Yearning for solace

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
Seeing droves of people line up for the theatre! Warms the heart!

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
The dearth of money, resources, space, time, and audiences, as well as professional legislation that is no longer tenable given the way we make art. Many of these problems are systemic – the way we dole out and are made to ask for funding, for example.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
I don’t much know what the shows are about so I can’t predict what will be incendiary or ‘newsworthy;’ all’s I know is that a lot of artists I admire are involved in this year’s line-up, so I’ll wager that their offerings will whet appetites and stir passions and ignite debate and spark controversy and impel change and do all the things that fearless and committed story-telling is supposed to do.



 

Blood Ties

Your Name:
Anika Johnson

Your Role:
Co-writer (music, book, lyrics)

Tell me about your Summerworks show:
Blood Ties is a dark musical comedy based on a true story. Sheila’s uncle Conrad kills himself on the eve of her wedding, and she and her three best friends are left with the task of cleaning up the mess left behind – a mess that is soon revealed to extend far beyond the blood splattered on the floor.

Okay, now do it as a haiku:
Sheila’s getting hitched
Over Conrad’s dead body.
Bloody weddings, eh?

What else are you looking forward to at Summerworks?
‘Through the Gates’ by Scott Christian and Daniel Cummings is the other show being produced by Musical Works in Concert – talented writers and a fantastic cast.  It’s great that Summerworks supports the development of new Canadian musical theatre.

I think the biggest challenge or issue facing independent theatre artists today is…
Old paradigms.

In past years, Summerworks has generated some wonderful controversy (Pastor Phelps, Homegrown, etc). What do you predict will make headlines this year?
Maybe Rob Ford will come to a show? Nah, not going to happen. But it would be worthy of a headline.