Summerworks Picks: Part 2

11 Aug

More treats from the Summerworks theatre lineup!

 

Holy Mothers

This translated import from Austrian playwright Werner Schwab is most definitely not for those with sensitive constitutions, but it is nevertheless a strangely charming piece of theatre blanketed with delightfully dark humour. At the centre of it are three aging cleaning women (Vickie Papavs, Astrid Van Wieren, and Lorna Wilson) who spend their downtime regaling each other with unpleasant and exaggerated tales about shit, vomit, and their troubled children, as well as simple and hopeful fantasies about better lives filled with romance and goulash. Didactic philosophical statements about the nature of life interspersed in the script feel clunky, but do break up the scatological content and give the characters some depth. Schwab’s greatest choice is to have his piece literally parody itself, giving one the sense that it’s all part of a grand and well-crafted joke.

Director Elizabeth Saunders and set/costume designer Anna Treusch’s aesthetic choices enhance the piece greatly; the kitsch-adorned set and the characters’ personalized costumes communicate just as much as the dialogue. All three performers are commendable, but Vickie Papavs deserves special mention for her quirky and sympathetic portrayal of Mariedl, the pious and off-kilter member of the trio.

 

Delicacy

Yet another splendid offering from one of Toronto’s most reliable independent companies, Theatre Brouhaha, helmed by playwright and human spitfire, Kat Sandler. Delicacy is set in an upscale condo owned by Mark (Andy Trithardt), a pompous writer and Tonya (Tennille Read), his uptight interior designer wife as they entertain Colby (Kelly McCormack) and Len (Kaleb Alexander), a free-wheeling fauxhemian suburbanite couple they met at a swingers club. While the plan is for an experimental evening of spouse swapping, the socially-obligatory socializing that precedes it goes awry and produces more tension and cathartic soul-baring than arousal.

Sandler manages to comment on the urban lifestyle and its superficialities, contemporary racial perceptions, class relations, sexual politics, and the fallibility of love and marriage – all while still giving priority to her story, characters, and sharp and witty dialogue. The performances do the script justice with strong turns from the entire cast; each actor embracing their character’s archetype while still giving them palpable depth and humanity.

 

The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw

This toe-tapping musical, billed as a “bluegrass opera” is a quaint piece of storytelling from playwright Peter Anderson, supported by a talented and energetic cast and an outstanding soundtrack. Perfect summer fare.

Using the familiar trope of the southern farm boy who makes a deal with a devil at the crossroads in exchange for musical prowess (or in this case, a supernatural banjo), The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw is a treat to sit through. While the cast are clearly having a ball on stage, and director Jennifer Brewin manages to evoke mood, location, and folksy charm with impressively few resources, it is John Millard’s music that is the true star of the show. Staying true to both the style of bluegrass and the expositional conventions of musical theatre, Millard’s score for banjo, bass, fiddle, and guitar is tuneful, moving, and far more interesting than the cookie-cutter ballads that have come to define the Broadway musical (I’m looking at you ‘Wicked’). His use of choral harmony is a particularly haunting treat.

 

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