Archive | August, 2015

SummerWorks Picks 2015: Part 2

15 Aug

SummerWorks is winding up this weekend but there are still chances to see some great shows! Here are more capsule reviews of our favourite fare at this year’s festival.


Stupidhead! (A Mucisal Cmoedy)

stupidheadThis confessional musical comedy spearheaded and performed by Katherine Cullen, co-written by Britta Johnson (one of the members of musical hit-machine Johnston, Johnson, and Wilde) and directed by Aaron Willis, is a hilarious and insightful window into Cullen’s real life struggle with dyslexia.

While many think of dyslexia as being an issue predominantly related to one’s ability to read or understand written language, Cullen dispels that misconception with a laundry list of personal quirks related to the condition and anecdotes from her often frustrating years in school. This show isn’t a pity party though; Cullen may be self-effacing (opening with an apology for having decided to write and perform a musical despite her complete lack of musical theatre training), but is a confident and eminently likeable performer and the content of the show reaches far beyond her learning disability, ultimately painting a lively and relatable portrait of the artist.

The wry musical numbers are definite highlights; one bit about a Tindr match’s listed passions of “Dobermans” and “Nutella” is transformed into a laugh-out-loud ditty that sticks with you long after the show lets out.

Another noteworthy element is the lone but domineering set piece by Anahita Dehbonehie; the sizeable mobile depicting a papier-mâché brain surrounded by cartoonish lightning bolts that hangs over Cullen’s head is on point with the tone of the piece and makes for an apt visual metaphor.


Counting Sheep

Counting SheepThose already familiar with the Lemon Bucket Orkestra (Toronto’s brilliant answer to Gogol Bordello) know that anything associated with the self-described balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-super-band is bound to be worth checking out – and their venture into the world of interactive theatre with Counting Sheep only reinforces that trend.

Counting Sheep (created by Mark and Marichka Marczyk) is billed as a Ukrainian Folk Opera that recounts the recent crises in Ukraine, starting with the political protests and clashes with police in Kiev in early 2014 and continuing right up to the present day war with Russia. It is the way in which the story is told that makes this production one of the most engaging, entertaining, and compelling in the SummerWorks line-up.

The cast – all wearing sheep masks – touchingly re-enact the key events of the revolution, chapter by chapter, using three massive projections screens as backdrops to display corresponding footage of the protests and riots from news reports and grass-roots sources. Eschewing dialogue in favour of music to set the tone of each chapter, the audience is treated to a smorgasbord of traditional Ukrainian songs than runs the gamut from melancholy hymnals to gregarious gypsy tunes. They are also treated to a smorgasbord of a different kind; an assortment of Ukrainian dishes are served throughout the performance making for a truly multi-sensory cultural experience.

The strongest elements of the performance are the immersive and interactive ones that have the audience dancing with the cast, building a barricade, and throwing “cobblestones” at riot police. Even those typically wary of audience participation will find themselves compelled to step into the beautiful and chaotic fray.

Counting Sheep is theatrical innovation at its best.

SummerWorks Picks 2015: Part 1

10 Aug

The 2015 edition of the SummerWorks Performance Festival is in full swing! Here are capsule reviews of the works that have stood out for us thus far:

the marquise of O-

marquiseDirector Ted Witzel and his company, Red Light District, are back with an adventurous and high-concept take on the early 19th century story by Heinrich von Kleist about a noblewoman who goes to extraordinarily public lengths to find the man responsible for her seemingly immaculate conception.

Co-written by Witzel and Lauren Gillis, the marquise of O- is a delightful blend of parody, anachronisms, and fourth-wall breaking that all serve to both skewer and enliven the stuffy conventions of the story’s era – but a superficial play, this is not. By the time the curtain falls, the audience is confronted by the realization of just how profound the Marquise’s story really is, and one almost feels guilty for having enjoyed the first half so heartily. Mix in some tidbits of Kantian philosophy, and you have a truly thought-provoking and layered piece of theatre.

Production-wise, Witzel’s trademark style and vision is on full display with a dynamic and mobile two-sided set that would make Brecht proud, a multitude of projection elements that support the artifice of the work and offer some wry meta-commentary, and some surreal touches that include the memorable use of a horse mask.

The cast (Kaleb Alexander, Rong Fu, Tyler Hagemann, Richard Partington, G. Kyle Shields, and Eve Wylden) make for a top notch ensemble, and while each performer is given time to shine, Shields is guilty of some serious scene stealing as the Marquise’s foppish and laissez-faire brother.

One side note: This play contains discussions of sexual assault. We mention this here because it was not listed as part of the audience warning at the venue, nor is there any audience warning information listed on the SummerWorks website.


This is Where We Live

This is Where We LiveVancouver-born, Australian playwright Vivienne Walshe’s This is Where We Live is a remarkable piece of writing; gritty yet poetic, lean yet lush. Walshe expertly paints small town Australia as an emotionally desolate locale; one thinks of the outback as an unforgiving landscape full of venomous creatures – an idea Walshe seems to draw on as metaphorical inspiration for this loose adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

At the centre of her story is Chloe (Jenna Harris), a prickly teen who compensates for her learning disability and permanent limp with a tough-as-nails exterior and “fuck the world” attitude. It is Chris (Tim Welham), the quiet odd-ball of Chloe’s English class (and son of her unforgiving teacher), that manages to crack open her protective shell and ultimately forges an intimate bond with her. Together, the idea of escaping their mundane realities doesn’t seem so farfetched after all. It’s not a complex narrative, but one that touches on a great number of human truths.

Harris and Welham are both a treat to watch; Harris’ drawling Aussie accent and cynical demeanour is a perfect counterpoint to Welham’s comedic and youthful performance. Director Taryn Jorgenson and set designer Jenna McCutchen make effective use of the sometimes stifling Passe Muraille Backspace; the confined space adds an element of emotional claustrophobia while the use of ladders as a visual motif supports the theme of ascension and escape.



SeamsIn a festival that celebrates the blending and bending of art forms, Polly Phokeev’s Seams may be one of the more conventional theatrical presentations in this year’s line-up, but that makes it no less of a memorable or effective work.

Set in a theatre’s costume shop in 1939 Russia, Seams is a tender and nuanced ensemble piece about the women – and man – who spend their days tailoring costumes and dresses and dreaming of better lives, while the world outside their workshop succumbs to violence and political strife.

Laced with nostalgia and bittersweet moments, Phokeev’s story captures the humanity and resilience of the Russian people, as well the eventual paranoia and distrust fostered by the communist regime that permeates and corrupts their lives.

The youthful cast (Krystina Bojanowski, Clare Coulter, Sochi Fried, Jesse LaVercombe, Caitlin Robson, Elizabeth Stuart-Morris, and Ewa Wolniczek), under the artful direction of Mikaela Davies, deliver charming and heartfelt performances. A rich and vintage design from Shannon Lea Doyle makes the world of the piece that much more tangible.