Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NEWS ITEM: PARADE is coming to town
31 Mar'10


In addition to their production of OUR CLASS, previously announced as part of Canadian Stage's 2010-11 season, Studio 180 Theatre plans a full production of the Tony Award-winning musical PARADE to round out its next season, it was announced Tuesday.

Written by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, PARADE will be co-produced with Acting Up Stage, under the direction of Joel Greenberg, with musical direction by Paul Sportelli.

Both OUR CLASS and PARADE will play at the Berkeley Street Theatre, with PARADE running in the upstairs space from Dec. 30 to Jan. 22 and OUR CLASS in the larger downstairs space from April 4 to 30, 2011.


Mirvish Productions announced Tuesday that a touring company of WICKED, the Tony Award-winning prequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ, will return to the Canon Theatre this fall, opening Oct. 20 and running through Nov. 28. Tickets go on sale June 7.

Friday, March 26, 2010

THEATRE REVIEW: who knew grannie: a dub aria
26 Mar'10

Grannie loveable, flaws and all

Rating: 3 out of 5

If you’re looking for heart and soul in a theatre piece, 'who knew grannie: a dub aria' might be just the ticket you seek. If you’re looking for theatrical finesse, however, it might be best to approach this as a work in progress — one with a fair bit of room for improvement.

The latest play from writer/director ahdri zhina mandiela, 'who knew...' had its world premiere on the Factory Theatre main stage last week, a production of Obsidian Theatre Company in association with the Factory Theatre.

A brief work, it is the story of family and not only how deep our roots might run, but how widely they spread as well. It is the story of four young people summoned home to Jamaica from the lives they have built here in Canada, to bid a final farewell to the grannie of title (played by Ordena) — a simple, compassionate woman who managed somehow to put aside age and poverty to raise these children of her children and send them out into the world in search of a better life. Some of them have found success, it seems.

Vilma, (played by Andrea Scott) for instance, is now a high-powered politician based in Ottawa — a woman who has the ear of the Prime Minister, which one supposes must be considered an achievement in some circles.

Her cousin Kris (Marcel Stewart) has done pretty well too, carving out a life as a successful restaurateur, although his personal life apparently draws disapproval in some circles.

For their cousins Tyetye (Joseph Pierre) and Likklebit (Miranda Edwards), life in Canada hasn’t proved to be quite so positive an experience. The former is serving time caged in a Canadian prison, while the latter pines for the warmth of her island home in the midst of a Canadian winter.

All in all, the ties that bind them — the joys of a shared Jamaican childhood, filled with music and games, dreams and stories — are stretched pretty thin here in their new home. But as they make their way back for their grandmother’s funeral, the power of memory takes over and those bonds once again encircle them in love.

Mandiela, as a writer, is nothing short of fearless in creating elaborate vocal patterns as she tosses words and ideas around with abandon, bending time and place to her will in pursuit of the theatrical moment. As a director, however, she falls more than a trifle short when it comes to meeting the complex demands her playwright makes on her.

Thanks to designers Julia Tribe (sets and costumes) and Bonnie Beecher (lighting), 'who knew...' has a strong sense of time and place, using a cats-cradle of taut cording to evoke not just the familial ties that bind but everything from a cityscape to a prison cell, while above it all percussionist Amina Alfred beats out the rhythms of life.

As the director tears into the playwright’s complex and challenging choral demands with far more heart than finesse, rendering too much of the text incomprehensible, other problems become evident as well. Mandiela fails to shape her casts’ enthusiastic performances to underscore the transit of her quartet’s voyage from childhood to adulthood and back again, finding brief moments of true childish wonder only in Edward’s performance, then squandering them by failing to ensure the performer’s voice made it beyond the footlights.

Thanks to the tremendous heart the performers bring to the tale, you’ll no doubt feel that you indeed knew grannie — but, chances are, you’ll mourn a wasted opportunity to know her a whole lot better.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

25 Mar'10

Helping to sell Jacques Brel


In the past several months, whenever talk has turned to the coming season at the Stratford Festival — and to the relative merits of the productions on offer — two names seem to lead the discussion. And no, unfortunately, we’re not talking William Shakespeare and Des McAnuff, although those are names that come up too, at least in the longer, more sombre conversations.

No, this year, the names on everybody’s lips have been Brent Carver and Jacques Brel. In fact, to the uninitiated, it seemed that in combining those two names — as in Tony Award-winner Brent Carver, starring in a production of JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS — the Stratford Festival had plugged into a vein of pure box-office gold.

Lord, what fools these mortals be — as somebody once said.

But, still, the prevailing wisdom was that this was destined to be one of the hottest Stratford tickets of the summer — hotter by far than even the much-anticipated production of THE TEMPEST, starring the venerable Christopher Plummer. (No reflection on Plummer here — THE TEMPEST is slated to play the Festival Theatre, while JACQUES B is slotted into the much smaller and more intimate Tom Patterson stage, so it’s more a matter of mathematics.)

But it wasn’t all just a case of the fewer the seats, the hotter the ticket. After all, in these parts one suspects people would snap up tickets to hear Brent Carver sing the phonebook in a subway tunnel, so great is the affection and regard for the talented thesp’s work.

And even though it’s a far cry from the troubadour’s native Belgium, the name Jacques Brel is one with which local producers have been known to conjure too — most recently in a flawed but enthusiastic 1999 production of this same show that managed to play at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre for six weeks — eight shows a week in a much larger theatre, compared to the maximum of five shows a week (but two to three on average) for which Stratford has programmed JACQUES BREL on the Tom Patterson stage.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that in the last few years, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, as it continues to style itself, has become more and more well known for the quality of its musical productions — so much so that one of them has been snapped up and will be remounted next season as part of the Mirvish subscription season in Toronto.

So, simply by putting two and two together, one might be forgiven for assuming that, with JACQUES BREL, the Stratford Festival had a bit of a hit on its hands, even before it left the starting gate. But there’s apparently a new math afoot.

How else to explain the announcement last week that the provincial government is riding to the rescue and ponying up an additional $300,000 from its Celebrate Ontario fund, all in support of the apparently beleaguered JACQUES BREL?

It is money well spent, according to Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson, who insists that the “funding is not only helping to promote sales for the Festival’s Jacques Brel production, it is also helping to spur economic activity in Stratford and throughout Perth County. This will provide a much needed boost for local business, especially hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, retailers and other attractions.”

It goes without saying that this infusion of cash will also ensure that the apparently struggling production of JACQUES BREL will now at least stand a chance of holding its own against Stratford’s productions of AS YOU LIKE IT, TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA and THE WINTER'S TALE — productions that right now are no doubt threatening to overshadow it.

If the government funding boost works, I’m sure a strong argument could be made for funding the Mirvish production of ROCK OF AGES, which, after all, should have a strong economic impact on Toronto.

All in all, it’s a bold move by the Ontario government, if not necessarily a ground-breaking one. The last time I can recall a government ear-marking funds for a specific theatrical production was when the province and the city conspired in 2005 to throw all sorts of money at the musical adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS — and we all know how well that ended.

Politics and art — working together, they make things better.

Better than what? That remains to be seen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

24 Mar'10


Before we can relish the dog days of summer, it seems we'll have to make it through the CATS' days of spring.

Mirvish Entertainment announced Tuesday a that another touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS will once again set up shop in Toronto, this time for a one-week-only engagement at the Canon Theatre, where it will run May 25 through 30.

Tickets, which will go on sale Saturday, are priced from $30 to $84 and are available at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

23 Mar'10

Lost in the woods

Rating: 2 out of 5

Years ago, a joke made the rounds, the punchline of which featured a relentlessly optimistic boy digging happily through a room filled with horse manure, convinced that somewhere in the midst of all the — ahem — organic fertilizer, there simply had to be a pony.

But frankly, after three episodes of Theatrefront's planned four-part opus, THE MILL, it's getting harder and harder for all but the most optimistic to believe there is even a hobby horse buried under all this horse hooey.

THE MILL, Part III: THE WOODS opened at the Young Centre Saturday, written by Tara Beagan and directed by Sarah Garton Stanley on the rough-hewn set created by Gillian Gallow for the entire series.

Right off the top, that's problematic, for Beagan has been charged with picking up the sordid tale of a haunted, woman-eating mill, right at the very beginning, circa 1640, in the days before the titular mill was built.

So as Michelle Latimer and Holly Lewis struggle to tell their portion of this most recent installment of the tale, they do so in the shadow of the two massive saw-wheels that play such a gory role in subsequent episodes. Talk about foreshadowing.

Mind you, that's not the only shadow hanging over Marie (Latimer) and her daughter Lyca (Lewis), for in asking them to create characters drawn from an ancient native culture, using contemporary language, Beagan throws down quite a challenge.

A descendant of the indigenous people of the area, Marie was conceived in violence with the arrival of the first white explorers, and then, having herself given birth to a white, fair-haired child, she has apparently been cast out by her people, themselves decimated by the diseases the white people trail in their wake.

Left to their own devices, Marie and Lyca have carved out a bucolic existence apparently in utter harmony with nature, but with the arrival of Charles (played by Ryan Hollyman) , a French ethnographer separated from his party and desperate for company, that all changes. He speaks only French, they speak only the Huron tongue, and before the language barrier of all of them speaking modern, colloquial (and in his case, colourfully profane) English has been worked out, he has been grievously injured.

Of course, he soon falls under Marie's spell as she grudgingly nurses him back to health and she falls under his, leaving young Lyca, who has already established in earlier installments that she does not play well with others, feeling more than a trifle abandoned. Her solution not only ends the nascent romance but also sets up the Terribly Spooky Premise that will apparently stretch through the other three episodes.

With a cast rounded out by Frank Cox-O'Connell, Eric Goulen, Richard Greenblatt and Michelle Monteith (all of whom spend the majority of their time playing shrubbery), Stanley gives The Woods her best shot, but in the end, only succeeds in creating a more artful version of the kind of tedium that marked the first two installments of this ill-fated theatrical adventure.

As Daryl Cloran, Theatrefront's artistic director recalls it, this project was conceived, at least in part, as "a way to make Canadian history less boring" — a concept clearly framed by individuals who have spent very little time studying the very history of which they are so dismissive. For, as anyone who has even casually studied the subject can tell you, there are thousands of yarns just waiting to be spun that have nothing to do with derivative B-movie Hollywood schlock like this.

Which is not to say that playwright Damien Atkins won't unearth a pony in Part IV: ASH, due next season — Lord knows, we've earned it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

22 Mar'10

‘The City’ not worth the visit

Rating: 2 out of 5

TORONTO – An unexamined life may not be worth living.

Furthermore, having endured opening night of the Actors Repertory Company's production of THE CITY, one is forced to conclude that an over-examined play just might not be worth bringing to the stage.

THE CITY, written in 2008 by Brit playwright Martin Crimp as a companion piece to his THE COUNTRY, written in 2000 (and to my knowledge so far underproduced here in Canada), opened at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs Friday.

As plays go, it is, one suspects, an interesting bit of writing, although in the end, one is left with the feeling that it is more in the nature of an artistic exercise than an enduring work of art. It all takes place on a bleak set designed by Gillian Gallow and lit by Sandra Marcroft that, in its mix of porcelain whiteness and cheap fluorescence, puts one firmly in mind of hospitals, subway stations, public washrooms and other places one may not want to spend 90 minutes of their time.

Apparently, it is the home of Clair and Christopher, a couple who have just come together at the end of a particularly trying day. For her part, Clair, a translator played by Deb Drakeford, has had an impromptu and disturbing encounter with a strange writer and his daughter, while Christopher, a business man played by Peter James Haworth, has had some disturbing intimations that professionally the ground may be shifting and the major fault line may in fact run directly beneath his feet.

In a series of seemingly linear scenes, their lives unravel from that starting point. Jobs disappear, passions grow and die and they are joined by Jenny, (Janet Porter) a troubled neighbour whose peace is under constant threat from noisy children we never hear, and by the Girl (played by Anja Bundy), who drops in to further bewilder us as Crimp spins out a tale that leaves plenty of room not just for observation but interpretation as well.

In the writing, Crimp makes it abundantly clear that, as these lives unravel, his characters exacerbate things by talking at each rather than talking to each other. But just in case you miss his point that there is very little real human connection between them, director Theodor-Cristian Popescu lays it on with a trowel.

Stripping the characters of humanity, Popescu abandons the conventional role of director in favour of that of choreographer, turning his actors into virtual slow-motion automatons in order to achieve his "vision," piling so much freight on every single word and gesture that his actors finally speak and move like they are trapped in an aquarium filled with oil.

That, of course, would be a wonderful effect, if it managed to serve the play — but here, it does nothing but drag things out, proving how boring sizzle can become when there is absolutely no steak. In the course of things, it eventually becomes obvious that the playwright had a vision of sorts which, while it may not have been enough to excuse the fractured nature of his tale, would at least have served to explain the twists and awkward turns of its writing, but Popescu's ponderous vision remains resolutely obscure.

Pretension is a lot of things, but, as this production proves, it has a way to go before it becomes truly compelling as a spectator sport.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

20 Mar'10

'Art' has value

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

She called it ART but she could as easily have titled it Value, for Yasmina Reza’s acclaimed and thought-provoking stage play is as much about the price we put on everything from paintings to friendship, as it is about the art we hang on our walls.

After an acclaimed Canadian premiere more than a decade ago, ART returned to the Canadian stage in a production by Canadian Stage that opened Thursday in the Bluma Appel theatre.

It is still an appealing play and this, in many ways, is an appealing production with Peter Donaldson, Colin Mochrie and Evan Buliung essaying the roles of three men whose 15-year-friendship is almost torn apart when one of them buys a controversial piece of modern art — specifically a white-on-white canvas that at least one of his friends sees as nothing less than a personal affront.

Mochrie is cast as Serge, the upwardly-mobile dermatologist whose purchase precipitates the crisis, while Donaldson plays Marc, the friend who dismisses Serge’s foray into fine art and collecting as nothing more than “a piece of s---.”
Buliung, meanwhile, tackles the role of Yvan, the frazzled peacekeeper in their midst, more concerned with juggling the demands placed on him by his prospective bride, her family, his family, his employer and his friends than with the minor disparity in those friends’ tastes in art.

But when the discussion moves from a minor into a major key, Yvan becomes collateral damage as both Marc and Serge pull out the big guns and finally gamble their very friendship in order to defend their divergent points of view.

Translated from French to English by Christopher Hampton, the script retains a lingering Gaelic flavour that in the wrong hands could seem almost stilted — a problem exacerbated here by director Morris Panych’s and designer Ken MacDonald’s decision to firmly anchor the story in Paris, its locale underscored by intrusive bits of video projection that show us Paris streetscapes in addition to closeups of the three principals that are far from flattering. Apparently, nose hair is funny this year.

It also serves to underline the fact that of the three actors on stage, only Buliung marshals up sufficient “Je ne sais quoi” to make us believe he is French.

Panych and MacDonald also conspire from the get-go to put the emphasis of their production more on the nature of friendship than on the nature of art, presenting us not with a painting but with a blank canvas that — while it may invite us to project our own artistic vision upon it — seems to echo everything negative Marc has to say about it, rendering Serge little more than a poseur in the process.

It’s a device that, at least at Thursday’s opening, seemed to ratchet up the comedic aspects of Reza’s script, even while it downplayed the importance of the dialogue it offers on the role of art in our lives. As he so often does, Panych as a director chooses to lead with the comedy, rather than let it grow organically from the tale he is telling.

When it comes down to choosing style over substance, it seems this is one director that will back style every time, ensuring that his audience sees Reza’s characters as buffoons and their besieged friendship as something of very little value. The apparent destruction of the painting draws gasps, the apparent dissolution of the friendship, little more than laughter. As works of Art go, Panych has a firm grasp on form but, as usual, he proves more than a trifle weak when it comes to depth.
NEWS ITEM: Shaw Fest lockout ends
20 Mar'10


Negotiators for the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and IATSE Local 461 have reached a tentative agreement, ending a brief lockout of the Festival’s facilities department, it was announced Friday.

What’s more, tentative renewal agreements have been reached with both the production and audience sales and services departments. IATSE’s bargaining team is recommending the ratification of all agreements in votes to be held shortly.

Friday, March 19, 2010

19 Mar'10

Something missing from ‘Lovely War’

Rating: 3 out of 5

There’s a lot more than musical style separating the stage of the British music hall and even the most run-of-the-mill concert hall.

And frankly, a deeper understanding of those differences would go a long way toward fixing what’s wrong with Soulpepper’s production of OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR that opened at the Young Centre on Wednesday.

In attempting to breathe new life into the 1963 British classic (created by Joan Littlewood, Theatre Workshop and Charles Chilton), director Albert Schultz and his largely eager and fresh-faced cast approach it almost as if it were an audition piece to show off collective musical skills and the like, content to relegate the play’s scathing socio-political examination of the First World War to secondary status.

This, despite the fact that the work is clearly created in the grand old British music hall tradition — which of course, wasn’t grand at all, but rather a bold and brassy milieu known as much for its bawdy and often subversive humour as for its catchy tunes. That’s a milieu that, one suspects, would be pretty alien to the thesps-in-training who not only comprise this year’s enrollment in the Soulpepper Academy, but who make up almost half the cast of this ambitious undertaking as well.

That’s a real pity too, for even though this is a play rooted in the tradition of British music hall, this is musical theatre almost by default. Its main purpose is to underline the fact that, while war has always been hell, in the 20th century we moved ever closer to turning it into absolute lunacy. This was especially true of WWI, styled by many to be the ‘war to end all wars,’ but which devolved into a particularly horrendous study in avarice, mismanagement and political irresponsibility that came close to wiping out an entire generation.

But it also spawned more than its share of memorable tunes — tunes such as Keep The Homefires Burning and It’s A Long Way to Tipperary — some of which have been revived as musical springboards for the heart-breaking, even hair-raising commentary created by Littlewood and her collaborators.

With musical direction by Marek Norman and choreography by Candace Jennings, Schultz’s take on OWALW is at least enthusiastic. His 15 members are led, after a fashion, by Michael Hanrahan, doing his best to pass off tin as brass in the role of the evening’s emcee.

Arrayed in the Pierrot/Pierrette costumes favoured in the original production, Raquel Duffy, Ins Chou, Tatjana Cornij, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Jason Patrick Rothery and Brendan Wall join forces with more seasoned stage veterans such as Oliver Dennis, George Masswohl and the ever-evolving Mike Ross to bring the work to life.

If all you’re looking for is a pleasant evening of musical theatre, they’re not half bad — an evening of sweet-faced youth singing sweet harmonies and dazzling its audience with instrumental skills. But they also aren’t half good enough at bringing to life the proper mix of honesty, humanity and world-weary cynicism the work demands. Occasional flashes of the right kind of work only serve to underline how much of the work misses its mark, and even with fine work from Dennis, Ross and Wall, it all feels far too much like a Bible school staging of CABARET.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR is simply too lovely by half.

What’s more, while a play that comes perilously close to ignoring Canada’s involvement in the First World War no doubt worked in Britain in 1963 — and properly so — it doesn’t exactly fly in Canada in 2010, thanks in no small part to the kind of theatre fostered by Littlewood disciple George Luscombe, who taught us, years ago, that we have a history all our own.

At the Young Centre
Directed by Albert Schultz
Starring the ensemble

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Reason to celebrate
18 Mar'10


The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has landed a grant of $300,000 from the province's Celebrate Ontario Fund to support it's production of JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS, it was announced Wednesday.

The announcement was made by John Wilkinson, MPP for Perth— Wellington, who said he believes that mounting a much anticipated musical on the Tom Patterson stage will have far-reaching effects. "Celebrate Ontario funding is not only helping to promote sales for (this) production, it is also helping to promote economic activity in Stratford and throughout Perth County," he said.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Gass fired up over Factory Theatre season
17 Mar'10


Artistic director Ken Gass didn't even allow the candles to burn down on Factory Theatre's 40th Anniversary season before announcing the august company's 41st annual foray onto the Toronto Theatre scene. Gass and Managing Director Sara Meurling announced the Factory's 2010-11 season earlier this week.

Come fall, things kick off on the Factory mainstay with the Toronto premiere, hot on the heels of an international tour of Ronnie Burkett's latest show for the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, titled BILLY TWINKLE: REQUIEM FOR A GOLDEN BOY.

While Burkett holds sway on the Factory mainstage, Cahoots Theatre teams up with Factory in the Factory Studio to present Neworld Theatre's production of ALI AND ALI 7: HEY BROTHER (OR SISTER), CAN YOU SPARE SOME HOPE AND CHANGE?, created by Camyar Chai, Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef.

Focus then returns to the mainstage, with the world premiere of BETHUNE IMAGINED, written and directed by Gass. Set in Montreal, it promises an examination of the iconic man's life during a brief six month period in Montreal in 1936.

Gass will then launch the new year with a presentation of Crow's Theatre's production of Anton Piatgorsky's ETERNAL HYDRA, directed by Chris Abraham. It will be followed by the world premiere of BROTHEL #9, the latest work from playwright Anusree Roy, the playwright behind Pysaa and Letters To My Grandma.

To close the season, Factory will revisit Adam Pettle's acclaimed ZADIE'S SHOES, in an all-new production directed by the playwright and his brother, Jordan, who appeared in the original staging at factory a decade ago, directed by erstwhile artistic director Jackie Maxwell.

In addition to its regular season, Factory Theatre will also play host to the annual Performance Spring, featuring groundbreaking works from across Canada as well as entries in CrossCurrents, Factory's festival of new plays in development.

Subscriptions, starting at $145 for five plays and $170 for seven plays, and single tickets, are now on sale at, and renewing subscribers will also receive one free bonus ticket for a friend.
NEWS ITEM: Mooo-ving performance


David Mirvish got the scoop on St. Patrick's Day Tuesday when he announced a limited Toronto engagement of HOW NOW MRS. BROWN COW at the Canon Theatre from Aug. 17 through 21.

Originally created for radio by Brendan O'Carroll, the fictitious and comic Dubliner Agnes Brown and her six children have captured the hearts of an international audience as they moved from triumph to triumph across the multi-media spectrum — radio, print, movies, stage plays, television (BBC1 TV premieres its new series later this year) and even on You Tube, where it appears they have attracted quite a Canadian following.

All of which has apparently prompted O'Carroll, who also plays the title character, to choose Toronto as the site of his North American stage debut.

Not surprisingly, tickets for this limited run, priced from $25 to $75, go on sale today at www.mirvish,com — and a Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, too.
NEWS ITEM: Canadian Stage unveils new season
17 Mar'10

Business unusual


TORONTO - Almost a year after he took over the reins of the Canadian Stage Company, artistic and general director Matthew Jocelyn is ready to climb into the saddle.

At a gathering Tuesday, Jocelyn stripped the wraps off the 2010-11 season, his first at the head of Toronto's largest theatre company -- a season that states emphatically that it is anything but business as usual at Canadian Stage.

After launching his season with the annual Dream in High Park event -- a previously announced summer production of ROMEO AND JULIET under the direction of Vikki Anderson -- Jocelyn himself will move centre stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre. There he will direct his own adaptation of German Tankred Dorst's FERNONDO KRAPP WROTE ME THIS LETTER: AN ATTEMPT AT THE TRUTH, itself an adaptation of Miguel de Unamuno's 'Nada Meno Que Todo un Hombre' (Nothing Less Than a Man).

The previously announced engagement of Robert Lepage's THE ANDERSON PROJECT is next up on the Bluma stage, to be followed by the Electric Company Theatre's production of STUDIES IN MOTION: THE HAUNTINGS OF EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE, in its Toronto premiere. Written by Kevin Kerr, directed by Kim Collier and choreographed by Crystal Pite, the Vancouver-born work will star Andrew Wheeler as Muybridge, considered by many to be the forefather of modern cinema.

It will be followed by a co-production, with Ottawa's National Arts Centre, of Linda Gaboriau's new translation of Michel Tremblay's SAINT CARMEN OF THE MAIN. It will be directed by Peter Hinton, who is head of English Theatre at the NAC.

Jennifer Tarver takes the helm next, directing David Greig's 'The cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former Soviet Union' in its Canadian premiere.

The Bluma season closes with a limited run of a new work, as yet untitled, by Edouard Lock and his La La La Human Steps Company, created to celebrate the company's 30th anniversary.

On their smaller Berkeley Street Stage, Jocelyn will continue the Berkeley Street Project, implemented by his predecessor, which partners Canadian Stage with Nightwood Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre in showcase productions. The former will partner with Canadian Stage in the Toronto premiere of Jennifer Tremblay's THE LIST, featuring Allegra Fulton in a translation by Shelley Tepperman under the direction of Kelly Thornton. Studio 180, meanwhile, will produce OUR CLASS, written by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, translated by Ryan Craig and directed by Joel Greenberg.

A third company -- Theatre Passe Muraille -- has been added to the mix next season, with TPM and CanStage collaborating to produce Project Humanity's THE MIDDLE PLACE, written by Andrew Kushnir and directed by Alan Dilworth.

Berkeley Street will also see the launch of a new multi-cultural program next season -- an annual showcase of "groundbreaking contemporary theatre and culture that features a country or geographic area that varies year to year."
It's called Spotlight, and next year it will be trained on Italy, honouring the 150th anniversary of that country's unification.
The program will include NUNZIO and LA FESTA, two plays from Sicily's Compagnia Scimone Sfameli, as well as two dance theatre pieces, LA NATURE DELLA COSE, from Florence's Compagnia Virgilio Sieni, and BASSO OSTINATO from Venice's Compagnia Caterina Sagna.

The fourth annual Festival of Ideas and Creation rounds out the season, produced next year in partnership with Equity Showcase Theatre, taking over the entire Berkeley Street complex for two weeks to promote the development of artists and new works.

Subscriptions, beginning at $124 for six plays and $158 for nine, are currently available at 416-368-3110, while single tickets will become available Sept. 6.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

13 Mar'10

Kudelka's dark 'Swan Lake' soars

Rating: 5 out of 5

TORONTO - Collectively, they may not have been able to summon up enough weather, stormy or otherwise, to bring proper life to The Four Seasons in their evening of mixed programming earlier this month, but Thursday night, the artists of the National Ballet of Canada proved that they still have what it takes to make a swan soar.

And, of course, to dance up a storm on Swan Lake.

A full decade and more after then artistic director James Kudelka created this dark new version of the classic tale, his SWAN LAKE finally made its debut on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre Thursday, following hard on the heels of an evening of mixed programming, which saw an opening night cast turn his FOUR SEASONS into little more than inclement weather.

And, frankly, this SWAN LAKE has never looked better -- a credit perhaps to Kudelka's casting prowess or to the joy with which the entire company attacks the work, or even to Kudelka's enduring genius, bolstered here by the design genius of Santo Loquasto, to the degree that the two of them back in 1999, somehow seem to have built a bespoke ballet, tailor-made for a hall they had never seen.

Whatever, there is more than enough credit to go around in this oddly familiar tale, glimpsed through Kudelka's glass, darkly.
SWAN LAKE has always been a love story between a Prince and a Swan Queen, of course, but in Kudelka's world, Prince Siegfried (Guillaume Cote) is heir to a troubled kingdom indeed, a rotting fetid place, all but awash in decadence.

He is a young man seemingly bored with his roistering hunting companions, but so wrapped up in his own ennui that he must be commanded by his queenly mother (Victoria Bertram) to choose a wife. He goes hunting instead, and while he is thus engaged, a stranger -- the evil wizard Rothbart, (Noah Long) who introduces the young prince to the beautiful Swan Queen Odette (Heather Ogden), with whom he is immediately smitten.

So, when the mysterious Rothbart shows up at a parade of potential brides arranged by the queen, in company with Odette's evil twin Odile, Siegfried mistakenly succumbs to her considerable charms, inadvertently breaking his vows to the innocent Odette and bringing catastrophe and cataclysm to his putative kingdom.

A couple in real life, Cote's and Ogden's romance has finally spilled over onto the stage, their joy in each other's skill as palpable as it is beautiful -- a romantic pairing that one suspects could carry the entire ballet on its own.

Happily, in this company, it doesn't have to, for in virtually every role, Kain has cast someone memorable. As Rothbart, Long claims the stage with a skill doubly impressive in one so young, while as Keiichi Hirano attacks the role of the jester with crowd pleasing bravado, teamed with a sultry Rebekah Rimsay as the wench and a swaggering Brett van Sickle as Benno.

There's impressive work to from Stephanie Hutchison, Elena Lobsanova, Tanya Howard and Jillian Vanstone cast as the international coterie of potential brides summoned for the Prince's choosing, each of whom, it seems, must overcome the stigma of wearing her own tent in a bizarre piece of costuming excess. Then, of course, there are the lovely, leggy swans with which Kudelka fills both his stage and our imaginations, moving them in ways certain to thrill even while they set the heart to soaring.

And through it all is woven the timeless music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, served up with skill and passion by the NBOC Orchestra, under the assured baton of David Briskin.

It is a SWAN LAKE to remember.
13 Mar'10

'Monster Under The Bed' a smash

Rating: 4 out of 5

TORONTO - One of the first things we learn in life is that the stuff we can't see can be way more spooky than the stuff we can.

Then, shortly after that, we learn that that kind of spooky can be a lot of fun.

And in bringing those two lessons together for a young audience, The Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People hoped to pull off something in the way of a theatrical coup. In fact, with the mainstage North American premiere Thursday of Kevin Dyer's often-delightful tale, THE MONSTER UNDER THE BED, pull it off they do.

After a fashion and not without a wrinkle or two.

As for the titular bed and what dwells beneath, it happens to be a very big bed indeed -- the very bed in which young Ben (played by Darrel Gamotin) happens to be asleep as the audience fills the theatre. But his is a restless sleep filled with dreams of the binoculars his soldier father gave him before he shipped out and of how those binoculars have been filched by his best friend Vince (one of three roles well-played by David Yee).

Then suddenly, it is morning and young Ben must face the last day of school before the holidays.

But before his long-suffering mother (Marie Beath Badian in one of three roles) can cajole him into the school day he's doing his level best to avoid, Ben comes face to face with the monster that lives under his bed -- a dusty-smelling, stocking-bedecked boy creature named Luke, played by Danny MacDonald.

And almost before you can say "Give me back my cereal," the two have traded places. Luke heads off to school to retrieve those precious binoculars and give Vince his comeuppance while Ben settles in for a quiet day at home alone. That's when he meets a second monster, who is not merely just an older version of Luke, but is, in fact, Luke's father. But while Luke is clearly an adventuresome sort, his father (played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) is of a more timorous disposition, although it takes Ben awhile to figure that out.

As Ben and Luke each struggle to make it through the day in strange environments, THE MONSTER UNDER THE BED becomes an adventure in problem solving, friendship and facing one's fears, with a side-service of kiddie-lit references.

Once again presented in the round, MONSTER is only moderately more successful than EL NUMERO UNO, YPT's last mainstage offering, at subduing the problems unique to such staging.

While there is something initially delightful about Camellia Koo's concept, it quickly disappears as much of the action is relegated to the very edges of the playing area, suggesting "In the round" is a concept best served by merry-go-rounds.

As for the play itself, under the direction of Nina Lee Aquino, it gets an enthusiastic and often polished performance from its cast -- one that is almost certain to delight all those possessed of tiny little Y chromosomes in a tale that traffics heavily in snakes 'n' snails 'n' puppy-dog-tails. But what little girls are likely to make of the way females are portrayed -- Badian as mother, teacher and pushy girlfriend -- is anybody's guess. Dyer's script and Badian's performances come together in such a way as to suggest the monsters of the other sex are only slightly less fearsome than the monsters that make themselves at home in the bed springs.

And that's more than a little problematic in a theatre that aims to make theatre for all young people, and not just for little boys.

Friday, March 12, 2010

12 Mar'10

Play shines light on humanity's dark side

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

If you’re looking for truth in packaging, check out Studio 180’s production of THE OVERWHELMING — and prepare to be overwhelmed.

Produced in association with Canadian Stage, THE OVERWHELMING opened at the Berkeley Street Theatre on Thursday, under the confident direction of Joel Greenberg. This is playwright J.T. Rogers’ attempt, it seems, to give theatre goers an inside look at the Rwandan genocide of 1994 — by showing it to us through the eyes of a trio of outsiders.

The story is set in early 1994, dropping us smack into the middle of an uneasy Kigali, the Rwandan capital, just moments after American academic Jack Exley (played by David Storch) touches down in search of a pivotal interview — one that will, he hopes, form the spine of a book on which he is labouring in order to save his job.

And while he interviews his old friend Joseph Gasana (Nigel Shawn Williams) about his work with dying children, Jack hopes his young new wife Linda (Mariah Inger) and his teenaged son Geoffrey (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett) will have a chance to explore and hopefully bond in the process. Linda, for her part, hopes to spin the trip into a personal essay or two, while Geoffrey is still sorting out his mother’s death.

They represent, of course, the ultimate innocents abroad, cloaked in the smugness of academia, the American middle-class and youth respectively — and Rwanda, circa 1994, is no place for innocents. Problems are quickly obvious, as Joseph not only fails to show up for his first meeting with Jack, but appears to have fallen off the face of the earth as well.

As the search for Joseph intensifies, and as they slowly learn thei way around the political society of Kigali, things grow more complicated, as American diplomats (Hardee T. Lineham), French diplomats (Paul Essiembre), United Nations officials (Essiembre again and a powerful Andre Sills) and local politicians (Sterling Jarvis) each try to put their own particular spin on things. Even young Geoffrey is drawn into the intrigue when he discovers that their houseman Gerard (Karim Morgan) is not what he seems — and they are all soon overwhelmed by first the complexity and then the horror of the events around them.
Reviewed here in its final preview, this is a complicated, text-heavy work that is as much history lesson as it is theatrical drama. Greenwood and his committed cast, bolstered by Dorothy A. Atabong and Audrey Dwyer (each triple cast in small but pivotal roles), attack the project with a potent mix of passion and restraint.

Working on a sprawling and, frankly, overly fussy set created by Michael Gianfrancesco and lit by Kimberley Purtell, they don’t so much offer up a history lesson as bring history to life. Illuminated by a complete range of human emotions — both the base and more rarely, the noble — they offer dramatic context for events that will shake humanity to its core.

But in the final analysis, THE OVERWHELMING — the title comes from the word the Mongo tribe used to describe the Belgian takeover of the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — is not so much about the Rwandan genocide, as it is about the complicated circumstances that led to it. It is also about the inability of a world beyond Rwanda’s borders to comprehend what was going to happen, or to stop it when it did, anymore than we could have stopped the excesses of the French or Russian revolutions.

The contemplation of man’s inhumanity to man may indeed be overwhelming, but the only way it will ever be stopped is if we shine a light in its darkest corners — and THE OVERWHELMING does just that.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Giant demand for Gentle
11 Mar'10


It's not due to open for another four months, but demand is already so high for the Stratford Festival's Studio Theatre presentation of DO NOT GO GENTLE, starring Geraint Wyn Davies, that they have added five additional performances in the intimate theatre.

The additional performances will take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 18 and 24 and on Sept. 8 and 11, with a matinee slated for Sept. 3.
NEWS ITEM: Lepage times two
11 Mar'10


Toronto theatre lovers will have two opportunities to renew their love affair with Robert Lepage this fall.

In a joint announcement yesterday, Canadian Stage and the Sony Centre announced that they will present two of Lepage's recent works in limited runs after Labour Day.

The first — a one-man show featuring  performer Yves Jacques, written and directed by Lepage and titled THE ANDERSEN PROJECT — will make its Toronto premiere on the stage of the Bluma Appel Theatre Oct. 21, where it will run through Oct. 30. It will be a part of Canadian Stage's 2010/11 season, the remainder of which is to be announced next week. While it will be offered as part of the subscription package, available Tuesday, single tickets will not be available until Sept. 6.

The second offering, titled EONNAGATA, tells the story of Charles de Beaumont, Chevalier d'Eon, a gender- bending courtier of the 18th century. Created and performed by Lepage, French ballerina Sylvie Guille and British choreographer Russell Maliphant, it features costumes by the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. EONNAGATA will play the Sony for two performances only, Nov. 18 and 19. Single tickets will go on sale Friday through Ticketmaster.
NEWS ITEM: Shaw Fest staff locked out
11 Mar'10


Just weeks before they are to begin preview performances, the Shaw Festival have announced that employees represented by IATSE Local 461 in the Festival's Facility Department, will be locked out, as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The move comes after a mediator appointed by  the Ontario Labour Relations Board resolved most of the issues between the union and the Festival, but in the end, the parties failed to resolve issues around  "contracting out."

While Festival officials have indicated they are prepared to continue negotiations with IATSE regarding contracts for Production and Audience Services Collective Agreements, IATSE Local 461 will not negotiate on those contracts until agreement is reached on the Facilities Department Contract.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Faulkner memorial set for March 28

10 Mar'10

Friends of the late June Faulkner, who died Friday at age 84, are invited to attend a celebration of her life at the Young Centre, Sunday, March 28 from 2 to 5 p.m.

One of Toronto's earliest theatrical administrators, Faulkner played a key role in the golden years at Toronto Workshop Productions and, after a brief stint at the Shaw Festival, came to roost at Young People's Theatre (now Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People) where she served as General Manager until her retirement in 1992.
NEWS ITEM: BILLY ELLIOT auditions start Saturday

10 Mar'10

The show doesn't open for almost a year, but the search is already underway to find the right Billy Elliot and his sidekick for the Toronto production of BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL.

Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions announced Tuesday, though the Mirvishes, that they will hold open auditions on Saturday, March 13 at 509 Dance (509 Parliament at Carlton) for boys interested in playing the title role and that of Michael as well. Sign up begins at 12:30 p.m.

They looking for boys between the ages of 9 - 12, with varied dancing skills — ballet for Billy, tap for Michael — and a maximum height of 4'10".

For complete details, visit or e-mail

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Stratford Fest posts surplus
9 Mar'10


In theatrical terms, it may have been a real nail-biter, but the Stratford Shakespeare Festival managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the last act of its 2009 season. It posted a surplus of $172,367, on revenues of $59 million.

The small surplus comes on the heels of losses in the neighbourhood of $2.6 million on the 2008 season. Like many cultural behemoths, Stratford started its 2009 season with ticket sales in a free-fall, but thanks to $3 million received from the Marquee Tourism Events Program — and an additional $500,000 from the province for the purpose of promotion — the festival was able to turn things around to the point where their April-through-October ticket sales were close to record-setting.

Previews for the 2010 season begin on April 10.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

6 Mar'10

'Talk' something to mull over

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

More and more, those without a personal stake in the Arab/Israeli conflict seem to be so overwhelmed by the effort involved in sorting out the rights and the wrongs of the situation, that they choose not to think about it all, except with resignation and despair.

Which means they never talk about it, of course.

That might make the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s production of Michael Nathanson’s Governor General Award-nominated TALK a bit of a tough sell in some quarters.

Which is too bad really, for while the play at first seems to be almost exclusively about what we have come to euphemistically dismiss as the situation in the Middle East — and indeed offers more than a bit of history on the subject — TALK is finally about the end of a friendship, and what happens when caring people become so entrenched in expounding what they think and feel that they shut themselves off from the thoughts and feelings of others.

That would be people such as Joshua (played by Michael Rubenfeld) and Gordon (Kevin Bundy), old friends since their university days and reunited for one night in the middle of a frigid Manitoba winter.

The purpose of their reunion is to allow Gordon to introduce Josh to Clotilde, the French enchantress he has met and fallen in love with while working in London — “the good one, not the one in Ontario,” his friend explains.

TALK, which opened Thursday in the Jane Mallett Theatre, follows hard on the heels of that meeting, Clotilde having retired to her hotel to afford the two old friends some guy-time to catch up. Gordon asks Josh what he thinks of Clotilde, and Josh hesitates before answering, finally revealing that, as a Jew, he’s offended by a single word Clotilde dropped into in their conversation — the word Palestine, in fact.

And that word proves to be a bomb that threatens to blow-up their friendship — either now, or in a shared future, if it cannot be defused.

As the argument rages, the two struggle to come to terms with who they are, what they believe and who they have become, their spoken arguments rocketing along a parallel track to their ongoing interior monologues. In such debates thoughts are thoughts, it seems, and feelings are feelings — and never the twain shall meet. The two old friends become progressively more entrenched in their opposing positions, each growing less and less concerned with the feelings of the other as they try to bully the other into a new way of thinking.

And therein one finds the universality of the tale, for while the subject here is the never-ending conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, it could as easily be a debate about abortion, same-sex marriage or the death penalty, for that matter.

Director Ted Dykstra does an impressive job of balancing his two fine performers on both an emotional and a political tightrope throughout, making the most of Steve Lucas’ elegant and simple set and lighting, and almost succeeding in disguising the fact that, as theatre goes, this is a whole lot of talk and very little action.

Unfortunately, the producers don’t help, for while one applauds the line-up of post-show speakers, ranging from the playwright through to religious leaders and even Martin Luther King III (on March 20), those speakers are, if the opening-night format is followed, an obligatory addendum to the production, rather than an optional bonus. After 85 minutes, there are some people who might just want to reflect on the play — or even just take a pee. They deserve a break — and a choice.
OBITUARY: June Faulkner
6 Mar'10

Toronto theatre loses influential figure


June Faulkner, a theatrical administrator who played a major role in shaping Toronto theatre, died late Friday night. She was 84.

Born in Wales, Faulkner immigrated to Canada in 1952, the wife of the late John Faulkner and mother of three children, which quickly became four.

After trying her hand at journalism and amateur theatre in Northern Ontario, Faulkner and her family moved in 1967 to Toronto, where she joined forces professionally with theatrical visionary George Luscombe.

From that union was born a golden era for Toronto Workshop Productions, with Luscombe supplying the artistic vision, while Faulkner ran the business end of things. A theatre (now Buddies In Bad Times) was built, then rebuilt after a suspicious blaze.

Faulkner left TWP and Luscombe in 1979 to join the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and its new artistic director Christopher Newton. It was a brief stint, as she soon returned to Toronto. "She needed the big city around her, and the idea that really interesting things could pop up from nowhere," Newton said in remembering Faulkner, adding that she still managed to make a significant contribution at the Shaw fest. "She set us up, or began to set us up. She did all the right things here — all the things I needed," he said. "I just have to thank her, in a sense, for that first year of beginning to put us on the map."

Faulkner moved on to Young People's Theatre (now the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People), where she served as general manager until her retirement in 1992.

A confidante of artists, politicians and philanthropists, the glamourous but pragmatic Faulkner was widely recognized for her ability to get things done, whether it was raising money to build a theatre, or arranging an international tour for a show such as TEN LOST YEARS.

"She was the prototype for a great tradition of general managers in this country," said Maja Ardal, who was a member of the TWP company during Faulkner's tenure and went on to serve as YPT's artistic director during the latter part of Faulkner's time there. "She supported the artistic vision with absolute faith." Faulkner was also a fundraiser without parallel, Ardal said: "A borderline wizard about where to find money … She only ever wanted to see that the productions got done. She would do anything to see that those productions happened."

Peter Moss -- who, as YPT's artistic director before Ardal, served with Faulkner for 11 years – said she was more than merely a cracker-jack administrator. "She was an extraordinary human being — one of a kind," Moss said. "She was full of grace. She was caring. When you fell within the circle of her concern, you felt very well-protected. There were edges, but there were no sharp edges. "I think it's a testament to the way she was that the friends she made were lifelong friends. People didn't drift."

Her commitment to the arts didn't stop at the theatre door, either. The home she shared for years with life companion Calvin Butler (following the death of her husband) was always open to artists looking for a room to rent. Added Ardal: "I actually think that June made very little distinction between the family of theatre and her own family."

Faulkner is survived by Butler and Faulkner's sons and daughters — Peter, Christopher, Maureen and Kitty — and their extended families, and by a vibrant theatre community. "There's a generation of Toronto theatre that owes her for her ability to keep things afloat," Moss said.

But she never asked for payment. When she retired, we asked Faulkner how she'd like to be remembered.

"Only that I've always been a great support to the artist," she replied. "That really is enough."

The lady who called everybody “darling” will be remembered for her great support to the artist, and for so much more, at a celebration at Buddies In Bad Times on a date to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, 60 St. Clair Ave., Toronto, M4T 1N5.

Friday, March 5, 2010

DANCE REVIEW: National Ballet Of Canada
5 Mar'10

NBOC mixed program 'breathtaking'

Rating: 4 out of 5

What’s in a name, you ask?

Well, if the names happen to be Frederic Chopin, Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi, it might be a safe bet to assume that whatever it is, it will have a classical flavour.

But not so fast. Before you put money on it, you might want to make a trip to the Four Seasons Centre, where the National Ballet of Canada is serving up a mixed program that features music from those three composers in a series of dancing that is about as far removed as possible from classical ballet’s tutus and tights.

Even the tiniest of tutus and tights might be considered heavy apparel when compared to the barely-there costumes created by Vandal for Marie Chouinard’s 24 PRELUDES BY CHOPIN, a breath-taking, often witty work for 17 dancers that uses the Preludes of title as a sound-bed for a work that challenges convention as much as it does classical form. With pianist Edward Connell ensconced at the keyboard, Chouinard turns each brief musical flight into a slice of life, using a dance vocabulary that seems to be on loan from Mother Nature as wild-haired dancers, arrayed in see-through dance-wear that obscures only the naughty bits, flutter like butterflies, frolic like dolphins, strut like peacocks and and otherwise soar across the stage. It’s lovely, engrossing stuff that inadvertently underlines the fact that, like an appetizer, a prelude usually leads to something grander — and while 24 Preludes delights, one suspects it might be even more delightful with a few less preludes.

It does, however, serve as a prelude of sorts to two other potentially stunning pieces of modern dance in a classical vein. Choreographer Jerome Robbins and the legendary Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov came together in the early ’90s in a work titled A SUITE OF DANCES set to a series of compositions for cello by Bach. While Baryshnikov performed the work here in 1994, it has only now joined the repertoire of the NBOC, premiering at Tuesday night’s opening, sans Baryshnikov of course.

Taking his place in a simple, brief work that becomes almost a flirtation between dancer and cello, (played by Winona Zelenka) is Zdenek Konvalina, who takes a back seat to no one in the dance department. Not surprisingly, he handles the dance demands of this piece, created for a mature Baryshnikov, with aplomb, casually sketching various dance moves and slowly building them into finished routines in such a way that one almost believes that he is drawing the music from the instrument. Fine dancing simply isn’t enough, however, in a work that demands that its single dancer command the entire stage from the very first moment to the last.

That same problem plagues the staging of choreographer James Kudelka’s THE FOUR SEASONS, built around Vivaldi’s music of the same name and featuring violin soloist Mayumi Seiler. A virtual calling card for the company during Kudelka’s tenure as artistic director, THE FOUR SEASONS makes a welcome return to the repertoire, featuring Aleksandar Antonijevic in the pivotal role of The Man, with Jillian Vanstone essaying Spring; Sonia Rodriguez, Summer; Rebekah Rimsay, Autumn; and Victoria Bertram, Winter.

It still packs a tremendous emotional wallop, sufficient that one can almost overlook the fact that the company no longer approaches the intricate demands of Kudelka’s choreography with the precision and passion that once marked their attack. And even though Atonijevic proves himself, once again, to be a superb dancer, as a performer he simply lacks the heft to carry this entire ballet, only coming into his own in the fading seasons.

Choreographed by Marie Chouinard, Jerome Robbins and James Kudelka
Starring Artists of the National Ballet of Canada
At the Four Seasons Centre
NEWS ITEM: Late actress' life to be honoured on stage

5 Mar'10

The life of the late Goldie Semple will be celebrated on one of the many stages she made her own during a too-brief career.

The Shaw Festival announced Thursday that a celebration of Semple's life and career will take place on the stage of the Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake on March 28 at 3 p.m.

Semple died on December 9 after a long battle with cancer. She was 55. She is survived by her husband, Lorne Kennedy, and by their daughter Madeline and will be remembered for numerous appearances at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals and most of the major stages in Canada.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

4 Mar'10

'Communion' embodies spirit of sharing

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

TORONTO - Stripped of its religious connotations, communion is still a powerful word -- in sound and in concept a sibling to the word "community", both words informed by the self-same sense of sharing.

And it is definitely that sense of intimacy and sharing that is at the heart of Daniel MacIvor's latest stage play, fittingly titled COMMUNION, which had its world premiere Wednesday at the Tarragon Theatre, where MacIvor serves as writer in residence.
A work for three actors, COMMUNION is a carefully etched triptych (three scenes stretched over a single act in such a way that it almost feels like a three-act play) of shared thoughts and feelings, constructed in such a way as to encourage a deepening intimacy, not just between the playwright's three protagonists, but between them and their audience as well.

As characters go, however, these are not prototypical environs of the MacIvor canon, sprung as they are more from the sometimes troubled familial milieu of MARION BRIDGE than MONSTER or CUL-DE-SAC or even A SOLDIER DREAMS, where MacIvor chose to explore a seamier side of life.

At the centre of COMMUNION is Leda, beautifully played by long-time MacIvor collaborator and interpreter, Caroline Gillis. A middle-aged woman in the middle of a life crisis, Leda when we first meet her is in the process of trying to sort things out with the aid of her therapist, Carolyn, played by Sarah Dodd -- and things don't seem to be going too well, judging from the pain, confusion and rage that spills out onto the stage, most, but not all of it Leda's.

What it all boils down to finally, is Leda's troubled relationship with her all-but-estranged daughter Ann, played by Athena Lamarre -- an estrangement that has been a lifetime in the making, leaving little in the way of a lifetime to sort it out. In subsequent scenes, Leda is reunited with Ann and then almost inevitably, Ann and Carolyn come together, closing the circle on a touching and intimate community of searchers, each desperate to find answers to questions they have not yet had the courage to ask.

Directed by MacIvor and reviewed here in its final preview performance, COMMUNION could best be described as theatre of the heart and mind -- a work where Kimberly Purtell's sets and lighting, Shawn Kerwin's costumes and Verne Good's sound design all come together to underscore MacIvor's determination to wring maximum power from his own unique vision of theatrical minimalism. And particularly in the work of Gillis and Dodd, MacIvor proves conclusively that there is very little that is simple about achieving simplicity, for in these two wonderfully, if sparely drawn, performances, he captures not just the despair of the human condition, but the hope that fuels it as well. We love Gillis' Leda, despite her flaws, while Dodd turns Carolyn into a theatrical iceberg that tells us with every careful movement that we are only seeing the tip of her compassion and confusion.

Unfortunately, under MacIvor's otherwise constrained and thoughtful direction, Lamarre strays so far into cliches in her portrayal of religious zealotry that she threatens to overbalance the simple humanity of the second scene. Happily, however, she has Gillis and MacIvor to save the day and Communion emerges as a touching and thought-provoking work, small but never little, that deserves to be shared with those who love good theatre.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Africa comes to Luminato festival
2 Mar'10


A new work from Toronto's internationally renowned Volcano Theatre, titled THE AFRICA TRILOGY, sits at the heart of Luminato's theatre and dance programming, which was announced Monday.

Inspired by Stephen Lewis' 2005 Massey lectures, THE AFRICA TRILOGY features an ensemble of three writers (Roland Schimmelpfennig, Christina Anderson and Binyavanga Wainaina) and three directors (Ross Manson, Liesl Tommy and Josette Bushell-Mingo) and is slated to open June 15 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, commissioned by Luminato and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, it is a production of Volcano Theatre, presented by Harbourfront Centre.

Also on the playbill announced Monday:

-The world premiere of ONE PURE LONGING: TAHIRIH'S SEARCH, directed by Erica Batdorf, at Buddies In Bad Times.

-BEST BEFORE, a fusion of theatre and video games from Europe's Rimini Protokoll theatre company, playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre.

-HOMAGE, from Halifax's 2b theatre company and based on the work of sculptor Haydn Davis, at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre.

Meanwhile, in addition to the National Ballet of Canada's previously announced mixed program blending the world premiere of a new work from Jorma Elo with WEST SIDE STORY SUITE and OPUS 19/THE DREAMER (at the Four Seasons Centre), look for the North American premiere of Syria's Anana Dance Theatre's JULIA DOMNA (at the Macmillan Theatre) and the Canadian premiere of Australia's Chunky Move dance and theatre company's TWO FACED BASTARDS (at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre).

Luminato takes place June 11-20. For more information, visit