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.

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