Four men dressed in black, bound, with sacks on their heads. A fifth man strapped to a board, whimpering in pain. Two representatives, one from the church and one from state. And one long expositional monologue.
These were the opening moments of Sean Dixon’s A God in Need of Help that, despite dynamic staging, made me think maybe God wasn’t the only one. But I am very happy to say that this feeling was fleeting. For as soon as the story got underway, I was won over by its charm thanks to the charismatic performances of the actors and the clever direction of Richard Rose.
You know summer is coming, despite all signs to the contrary, when Shaw and Stratford Festival go into previews. Shaw is revving already with Arms and the Man. It is a comedy, it is one of Shaw's most charming works, but photographer Emily Cooper shows us the passion of the young heroine of the piece - glowing outward from the centre of the pic - in this portrait of Kate Besworth.
Last Thursday night marked the opening of the Theatre Centre’s Incubator space, where three distinct one-hour plays, by three talented Indie companies, were presented in rep. The subjects of these shows are as diverse as you might expect. What connects them is an innovative lighting designer, André du Toit, and most importantly, a dedication to telling stories through robust physicality.
Ralph + Lina
First off is Ralph + Lina, a true-to-life account of actress/creator Cristina Serra’s Italian grandparent's courtship, marriage and eventual immigration to Canada. Serra even plays beside her real life husband Dan Watson in what makes for an enduring romance that resonates through generations.
The play begins with the couple’s morning routine. As they lunge for the paper in a tango, while Lina absentmindedly pours hot coffee into Ralph’s perfectly placed cup, we know this is a couple who has been carrying on like this for years. This opening display of crabby and comfortable domesticity is impressively realized by these two nimble actors, who use robust physical movement and precise choreography to bring the old couple to life. Indeed, their whimsical acrobatics are the highlight of the show.
As Lina begins to do her husband’s laundry, a familiar smell takes her back some 40 years to the small Italian town where she grew up. Now, the main story unfurls in flashback. A handsome, but poor young buck, Ralph, in pre-war Italy courts a pretty and coy Lina. This story has its charming moments, but isn’t as captivating as their older-couple impersonations. Things become clichéd when Ralph is conscripted and finally returns to Lina, now betrothed to another. Here the play offers up an echo of that famous Notebook scene: “I waited for you for seven years.”
Things are quickly resolved, however; and soon enough the couple immigrates to Canada, and we return to the charming seniors we know already, as they are preparing to greet their large family brood. Heartwarming and silly, Ralph + Lina is a sweet take on a familiar Canadian immigrant story.
Spend an Evening with Shaw by Lucy Wells @LWellsTO
The Never Wrestle with Pigs theatre collective is presenting its first production at the Annex Theatre through this week. I am a great fan of Shaw, and am always happy to see new productions of his lesser-known works. I am especially happy to see that this collective has done such a fine job with this material. The four plays presented are Inauguration Speech: An Interlude, How He Lied to Her Husband, The Inca of Perusalem,andPassion, Poison,and Petrifaction. Though some elements are a little rough around the edges, this is overall about the best acting I’ve seen in Toronto.
Directed by Anne Allen, the cast features Hilary Carroll, Mitchell Court, David DiFrancesco, Wendy Fox, Victoria Millar, Celine Peel-Michaud, Matt Pilipiak, and Nicholas Porteous. Most of the actors play multiple roles over the evening, and it was fun to see how the dynamics changed with each new combination of characters. Especially noteworthy was the way the ensemble rallied around outrageous characters: when one character is over-the-top, it is easy to have the rest of the cast be merely a back-up, but in this production, each character on the stage was well-considered and acted, not merely a talking backdrop for the star. This was especially notable in The Inca of Perusalem, in which Ermyntrude is thoroughly capable of dealing with the Inca’s antics, and in Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction, in which the humour depends on everyone in the cast going full-out, not simply the warring spouses.
Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly is a little different from most operas. First performed in 1904, before the United States had declared itself liberators of the free world but at a time when the brash young country was starting to spread its influence and sense that the world belonged to it. Unlike other operas it does not have recognizable arias that have woven themselves into pop culture. It is only snippets of the Star Spangled Banner inserted into the score that would be hummable for an untrained singer.
If it is possible for an opera to be intimate then Madama Butterfly is that opera. The set is sliding paper walls of a traditional Japanese home. One stage left and right and one upstage. That would of course make the audience the fourth wall looking in on the scene of domestic bliss. Director François Racine has infused the production with a sweet quality that allows the audience to fall in love with the heroine. By setting the table in such a way it makes the coming tragedy grander and Butterfly an even more compelling figure.
Yaël Farber is a multiple award-winning director and playwright of international acclaim. Her productions have toured the world extensively - earning her a reputation for hard-hitting, controversial works of the highest artistic standard. Her most recent work MIES JULIE (written and directed by Farber) has won a string of international awards; was recently named one of the Top Ten Productions of 2012 by The New York Times, and 5th Best Production of 2012 by The Guardian. Ms. Farber was named ARTIST OF THE YEAR in her native South Africa (2003). She is the recipient of four national BEST DIRECTOR AWARDS (South Africa 1991, 2002, 2008; 2012) She has won: twice the SCOTSMAN FRINGE FIRST AWARD (Edinburgh 2000 & 2012); twice THE ANGEL HERALD AWARD (Edinburgh 2003 & 2012); A SONY GOLD AWARD (London 2001) and the BEST OF EDINBURGH AWARD (Edinburgh 2012). She has been nominated for a DRAMA DESK AWARD (NYC 2007) and a TMA BEST DIRECTOR AWARD (UK 2008). Her productions have toured across the major cities of the USA, the UK (including in London's West End and at The Barbican Centre), Canada, Australia, Japan, across Europe and Africa. Ms. Farber is a past invitee of: The Lincoln Theatre Directors' Workshop (NYC1999); Mabou Mines Theatre Company (NYC 2001); and In Transit Laboratory at Haus de Kulturen der Welt (Berlin 2001). She developed a work in residence at The Joseph Papp Public Theatre (NYC 2000); developed a new text atSundance Theatre Laboratory (Utah 2001); was Playwright-in-Residence for Nightwood Theatre (Toronto 2010); and an invited participant in Anna Deavere Smith's 'Bodies on the Line' Artist Residency (NYC 2010). Ms. Farber was Head of the Directing Program at the prestigious National Theatre School of Canada 2009 – 2012. She premiers a new production NIRBHAYA at the Edinburgh Festival 2013 – focused on the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, which caused an international outcry. Ms. Farber was recently named amongst City Press's top 100 South Africans. Her plays are published by OBERON BOOKS (London, UK). Farber will direct Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE for London’s West End theatre The Old Vic this year.
CHARPO: When did the inspiration for the idea for Mies Julie begin? What were the first seeds for the adaptation?
FARBER: I love to adapt the classics. I work off the foundation that audiences are familiar with but then subvert that as well. I love the challenge to try and connect to a contemporary classic... find the ways it surprised or shocked its first audiences. I try to re-discover what those shocking factors were when it was first written. I try to find those outlets, when I read work or see work: What isn’t there? How is it different now?
I had read the play 20 years ago as a student but then returned to it again a few years ago when I was teaching at the National Theatre School directing program and came upon a scene from Miss Julie. As I was working with the students, images kept coming to me from the scene we were doing. A tree growing out of the centre of the floor was the strongest image that stayed with me and gave me the inspiration for the adaptation. I always start with images and when I re-read the play images kept flooding in and I instantly knew it had to be set in South Africa.
A Walk-Out and a Pile-On Leaving, staying, reviewing by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I don't know which wise person said this about social networks, but I learned it the hard way a couple of weeks ago: Disrespect takes over when community becomes society.
The person was talking about the phenomenon of trolling. Now I've been at the receiving end of trolling before, but it happened on Twitter the other night. It began as a perfectly civilized discussion about walking out of a show which one nevertheless reviews.
Some background: A work appeared at World Stage Festival in Toronto, called Conte d'amour. It was insanely controversial. Kelly Nestruck at the Globe and Mail gave it no stars. People walked out. Our reviewer, Jason Booker, survived 130 minutes of its 180 before he left. Despite this I asked him to write a review anyway.(As I have done for shows I have walked out of, to explain why one's reaction would be so strong. Accept my word, please, that I, and none of the reviewers at CharPo, are delicate flowers.)
Danse, Dance by Estelle Rosen Co-Artistic Director/Dancer with RubberbandDanceGroup since 2002, Anne Plamondon was involved in developing a strategic vision for the company and now teaches the RUBBERBAND Method internationally. Ms Plamondon has collaborated with Crystal Pite's company, Kidd Pivot, since 2005. More recently, she continues to pursue her own choreographic voice in the self-solo work Les memes jeux que toi which was created in collaboration with Marie Brassard and premiered in 2012 at Agora de la Danse.
CHARPO: How has the development of Regroupement québécois de la danse (RQD) contributed to making dance such a vibrant part of Montreal's arts community, as evidenced by the upcoming Québec Danse 2014.
PLAMONDON: Montreal is a cultural metropolis with a rich pool of dance artists, choreographers and performers, both professional and amateur. (cont'd)
Thirty Years and Beyond Greeks and Romans We're not always in a theatre, we're not always outside, it really depends on what the story demands. by Lisa McKeown @lisammckeown Adrian Proszowski has been Artistic Director of Theatreworks Productions since 2006. During his tenure thus far he has produced and acted in both CREON by Ned Dickens and The Menaechmus Twins by Plautus. Born in London Ontario and raised in Ottawa Mr Petroszowski has been passionately engrossed in the arts since he attended Canterbury High School for the Arts before leaving Ottawa to train at George Brown Theatre School in Toronto. Since graduating George Brown he has been a company member of A Company of Fools, an Ottawa based troupe dedicated to the plays of Shakespeare. Adrian Proszowski has worked across Canada since graduating George Brown Theatre School. Notable roles have included: Oberon in Company of Fools Winters Tale/Midsummer Night’s Dream mash up A Midwinter’s Dream Tale at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa, Rad in One Thousand Cranes for Carousel Players cross Canada tour, Michael and two other characters in Kevin Kerr’s Unity 1918 at Theatre Aquarius, Louis in Michel Marc Bouchard’s Heat Wave at Sudbury Theatre Centre, Sammy in Blood Brothers at 1000 Islands Playhouse, King Louis XIII in Three Musketeers (The world premier of an adaptation by Tom Wood) and the Knight in Little Women the Broadway Musical at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. He was one of 14 chosen from across Canada to participate in The Robbins Academy at the Banff Centre and Citadel Theatre. Upcoming: Adrian Proszowski will be directing the world premiere production of Ned Dickens play Paulo and Daphne commissioned by Theatreworks Productions.
CHARPO: So can you talk a bit about the history of Theatreworks Productions?
PROSZOWSKI: Theatreworks Productions was founded in 1984 by Bernadette Jones. It started out with a mandate of doing new Canadian works, and Canadian premieres of international works. Throughout the 80s and 90s Bernadette was doing a lot of New York playwrights, she had a space called Off Off Broadview over at Gerrard and Coxwell, and the Adelaide Theatre. She then moved off to do film and television around 2006, when I came on board.
Though I'm into Canadian plays, that mandate of new Canadian works seemed to me like one a lot of people were doing and doing well like Factory and Theatre Passe-Muraille. So I was like, what's our niche going to be? And my passion is classical theatre. And one day I was hanging out with a friend at Jackman Avenue Public School. And I was hanging upside down off the monkey bars and I saw this circle of stones, and I was like, 'whoa, look at that over there!' So we checked it out, and it was big circle of stones with a stone in the middle. And we realized it was such a great theatre space. My friend said he'd always wanted to do Antigone, and so the wheels got turning, and we started thinking you know, how can we do this play with Theatreworks Productions, and that's really how the reworking of the mandate got started.
Private Previews by Cameryn Moore @camerynmoore Earlier this week, my producer here in Peterborough, Ontario, told me that pretty much the only dedicated theatre reviewer in these parts—certainly the only one who wouldn’t feel compelled to burn my press release and then burn their own fingers off after having touched it—was asking about the possibility of doing a dress rehearsal the day before I opened and letting them in to see it, so we could get a review out early in the three-day run. I was… hesitant.
I never do press previews. I’ve never even thought about it. I mean, why would I? If I’m self-producing, an extra night of a theatre space just means spending more rent, for an audience that isn’t paying. My shows rarely run for longer than one weekend, so the press doesn’t usually feel strongly about getting people out. And anyway, I’m small potatoes and I say “cock” a lot. The media, especially in smaller cities and towns, aren’t exactly stepping up and grabbing hold of this particular hot spud.
On the Fringes? There’s no time for a preview. There are eight other companies teching in your space right up to the first show on opening night. Critics come when they come, and you can only send out your press releases and story ideas and hope they come early in your run and write fast and well and really understand the deeper symbolic meaning of your blocking and somehow manage to convey that to their readers, but really you’ll be happy with four stars and/or a decent pull quote.
So, these have been my assumptions and operating procedures around critics and previews. This is why I hesitated.
Alfred is the type of play, where you sit down, quickly hope for an intermission in order to escape, then moments later get blown away by the brilliance of the production. It is set in a small Ohio town, at the local zoo. Clyde Redding, a regular security guard with a family, a mortgage and a lot of debt, tells us his story. He speaks directly to the zoo's panther, Alfred, seeking help. Exasperated, Clyde finds a solution to his and the world's problems : he releases the creatures from the zoo. In this chaos of exotic animals unleashed, we are are taken through the different perspectives of a few characters from Akron, Ohio.
The GCTC has decided to include The Public Servant in its season next year. I saw the play at undercurrents and it was my opinion that it would be one of if not the hit of the festival. I have a bit of a bias as I have worked in the Public Service and felt it would so easily resonate with an Ottawa audience. I guess Eric Coates felt the same way.
It is wonderful when an independent company gets the opportunity to reach a wider audience and arrives, as all overnight successes do after considerable toil, sweat, penny pinching and hand wringing angst.
The Charlebois Post goes behind-the-scenes as The Lion King musical returns for extended runs in Toronto and Montreal
by Richard Burnett
(Production photos courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions)
Theatre snobs think The Lion King musical represents everything that is wrong with theatre. But ask some of the 70 million people who have seen this musical on a stage in the farthest corners of the world, from Sao Paulo to Shanghai, and you’ll get a very different answer.
Or just ask my younger brother Skye, who was born the year the Disney movie was released, and grew up with the film – his favourite as a child. Skye had Lion King hoodies, toys, bed sheets, you name it, he could not get enough of The Lion King.
So when the musical made its Montreal debut in 2011, I brought Skye. I have always been Mufasa to his Simba, so during the production when Mufasa sang He Lives In You to his son Simba (their relationship in the very strong first act is the real heart and soul of The Lion King), I was quite overwhelmed.
Another COC season, another array of perfect Michael Cooper photos - this one for Hercules (with Eric Owens). Mr. Cooper has ensnared the magic of the Peter Sellars production (with a brilliant set by George Tsypin and lighting by James F. Ingalls). The backdrop is a marvel, and the way it uses light and colour is as lovely as it is undistracting (the essence of a great set). But what Mr. Cooper has wrought bringing these elements together, for a truly timeless photo, is magic in its own right - the red slashed with the white of the central figure and the nightmarish all casting its reflection on the floor.
How do You Solve a Problem Like This? The LOT’s new Sound of Music feels like climbing uphill by Stuart Munro @StuartMunroTO
Staircases on mountains. Grapevining nuns. The Lower Ossington’s new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music certainly is an interesting take on a well-loved classic.
Let me start off by saying something controversial – The Sound of Music is not a very good show. When it opened on Broadway in 1959, its simple, perhaps overly-sweet story was met with mixed reviews. Even my mother found it too sentimental when she saw it in London in the 1960s. It’s because of the successful 1965 film version that The Sound of Music has entered our public consciousness as one of the Great Musicals of Our Time. Had the movie not been toned down the way it had, I’m not sure this would have been the case. As a result, any new production must contend with the less-than-perfect book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and attempt to find the real heart of the story buried beneath all those layers of sentimentality.
Sadly, The Lower Ossington Theatre hasn’t accomplished this. It hasn’t even tried. Their newest production, currently running at the Randolph Theatre, is so confused and overworked that no sense of story comes through at all.