Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Abominable Showman, April 30, 2014

(photo by Ali Barillaro)

Over The Rainbow
Legendary theatre director Roger Peace teams up with legend-in-the-making Chris Barillaro to recreate Judy Garland’s extraordinary 1961 concert at the Montreal Forum
by Richard Burnett 

After America’s national LGBT magazine The Advocate in 1998 called Judy Garland “The Elvis of homosexuals,” openly-gay stand-up comic Bob Smith debated the tragic idols – Elvis the King, and Judy our Queen – in a classic gag:

“Elvis had a drinking problem.”

“Judy could drink Elvis under the table.”

“Elvis gained more weight.”

“Judy lost more weight.”

“Elvis was addicted to painkillers.”

“No pill could stop Judy’s pain!”

For decades, of course, LGBT people used the code phrase “Friend of Dorothy” – inspired from Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz – to identify one another. Then when Garland died in June 1969, myth has it her death and funeral, held in New York City, fuelled the Stonewall Riots which ignited the modern Gay Liberation movement. In fact, the very first Gay Pride parade was held one year later to commemorate Stonewall, and today LGBT people worldwide link the Gay Liberation movement’s Rainbow Flag (created in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker) with Garland’s signature song Over the Rainbow.

Interview Karen Mitten and Who (else) To Watch at SheDot

Karen Mitten speaks and Who (else) To Watch at SheDot
by Dena Jackson
Introducing Dena Jackson: Writer, Comedian, Cheese Lover, Weirdo 
My friends have often asked me why I decided to get into stand-up comedy and the answer is simple. I love getting up in front of an audience and facing most people’s greatest fear. An odd thing about me is that situations that tend to freak me out (driving, taking exams, looking people in the eye) are situations that most people can handle and yet I struggle with them. The stage lets me deal with these struggles and other random thoughts in my head in a funny way. When I look at the performers in the SheDot Festival, my heart becomes very warm. I am comforted in the fact that there are tons of other women who feel the way I do about comedy. It is literally one of the greatest things I have ever tried and will continue to try until I’m old and in a remote control chair, poking people in the bum with my cane (and blaming it on others, naturally.) And even then I will probably still perform for anyone who will listen/look in my general direction. Comedy to me is like being a marionette on a balance beam. You are both the puppeteer and the marionette and the balance beam is your set. You can easily get thrown off while you are performing and it’s your job as a comic to adapt to the situation and get back on. Some of the best comics in the city, many of whom will be performing at SheDot, all make it seem so natural. In each set a comic prepares, they are perfecting their timing, engaging with the audience, considering the lighting, the room, previous acts and changing line-ups at the last minute if needed. It’s festivals like SheDot that continue to influence and encourage the female comedic voice as they perform. I’m proud to call myself an amateur comic in Toronto and it is a true honor to share the stage with some of these female comedy geniuses. I can’t wait to watch them shine this weekend. Dena’s Twitter

Interview with Karen Mitten (SheDot TDot/She Sassy)
by Dena Jackson

Karen is a favourite in the Toronto comedy community as a daytime schoolteacher who runs her very own comedy open mic at night. You will often see Karen around the city telling jokes about her experiences from being bitten by a geriatric dog to attending modelling school in New Brunswick, only to lose a beauty contest to the richest girl in town, how convenient. Karen’s positive approach to comedy can be defined as refreshing and hilarious.

As a light-hearted teacher from small town New Brunswick, you wouldn’t necessarily assume that Karen Mitten has a colossal stock of comedy in her back pocket. In the working class background where Karen’s from, studying “the arts” is a nice thought that someone might pause briefly for before getting back to work.

When I asked Karen how she got started in comedy, she told me that she studied stand-up at Humber College in 2005. But it wasn’t until a few months ago when talking to friends Dawn Whitwell and Lianne Mauladin (fellow comics and SheDot performers) that she was able to immerse herself into comedy. Whitwell teaches a well-known all-female stand-up comedy course called “Comedy Girl” that Karen attributes to helping her find her comedic voice.

News: (Toronto) Hart House Announces 2014-15 season (press release)

Review: (Victoria / Theatre) Equivocation

(photo by Emily Cooper)
Theatre and the Truth
Equivocation Rounds Off Spectacular Shakespeare Season at the Belfry
by Morgan McPherson

Since I have started my very young career as a theatre reviewer, I have seen the process of going to a show in a whole new light.  As a Fringe Festival theatregoer since 2003, I usually thoroughly research a show beforehand and make a very conscious decision about what I see.  After my first review, I decided to surrender myself to the shows I would be attending as a representative of this publication with little foreknowledge of the details.

On every occasion, I have been incredibly pleased with the result.  The Belfry Theatre here in Victoria has put on a simply smashing season; so goes the theatre's current offering, Bill Cain's Equivocation.

In a Word... Actor Nonnie Griffin on Marilyn After

Hey, Nonnie, Nonnie!
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

A veteran of Canadian theatre and Andrew Allan’s fabled CBC Stage radio series, Nonnie Griffin is indelibly remembered for her appearances in such Toronto productions as Hello, Dolly! Waiting for the Parade, Tremblay’s The Impromptu of Outremont, Ring Round the Moon, and The Sea – for which she was named Best Actress of 1977.  She is also the author of Sister Annunciata’s Secret, based on an actual incident, in which she plays six characters. Her play brought audiences at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival to their feet and high praise from critics. She is also the author of SHOWBIZ and other addictions, published by Mosaic Press and endorsed by writer Timothy Findley, who called her “magical”.

CHARPO: You have had, especially considering it’s Canada!, a fabled career. What were some of the highs (and, if you like, the lows)?

GRIFFIN: The highs have been many. When I began, there was only one repertory company in the country, the Canadian Repertory Company (CRT)  in Ottawa and I was asked to be the resident ingenue at 19 years of age. William Hutt was the leading man, William Shatner (of Startrek) their juvenile, plus Eric House, Barbara Chilcott as well as other notable Canadian performers. CRT had hired the new famous and excellent actor Christopher Plummer the year before.

We had one week to rehearse any production but the standard of acting was always excellent even with the classics such as Chekhov's The Three Sisters. Another 'high' was being discovered by the great Andrew Allan in Lister Sinclair's new play, The Blood is Strong, who cast me opposite John Drainie. I went on to do countless productions in Mr. Allan's 'Stage Series' and other radio work. This was what they now call The Golden Age of Radio and it was.  Later, I was in the first musical production of Anne of Green Gables and from there, went to England for three years, the highlight being asked to be part of the Bristol Old Vic theatre company and travelling with the company to Lebanon with two Shakespeare productions in 1960. (cont'd)

Video of the Week, April 30, 2014

The Segal Centre has mastered the art of promo video and this one for Top Girls is no exception. Clean, focussed, and the magnificent actors in the production put front and centre.
(Read also a terrific first-person piece by dramaturg Caitlin Murphy on working on this production)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bonus Feature: Becky Bays on SheDot Comedy Festival

Your True Voice
by Becky Bays

The first time I tried stand-up comedy, I was 20 years old and living in London, England. I was studying theatre, and had a sketch comedy duo with a friend, but one night I decided to get up on stage at a pub where we were performing sketch and give stand-up a try. “I make people laugh all the time!” I thought, “I’ll just get up and talk about my day and it will be so much fun!”

As you can guess, it was pretty much a disaster, with lots of awkward pauses and I slunk away thinking that this whole thing was much harder than I would have guessed! When I was in my late 30s, a bunch of my friends were getting into stand-up, so for a lark I decided to take a stand-up writing class. I swore that I would only perform in the class show. I still had the memory of that awful night in the pub, but I knew that this show would have an audience made up of the performers’ friends and family, which would be much friendlier than strangers staring at me bombing while slowly getting drunk.

Bonus Feature: Cristina Markham - Inside SheDot And The "Women Aren't Funny" Theory

Think women aren’t funny? Then you don’t know the right ones…
by Cristina Markham

Introducing Cristina Markham:
Cristina Markham is an amateur comedian who dislikes the word “comedienne.” You can catch her at various open mics around the city, and as part of Absolute Comedy’s amateur showcase on May 21st. Follow her on Twitter at @cristinamarkham for mediocre jokes and pictures of epic brunches.

I have been a comedy nerd as long as I can remember. Instead of keeping up with the Top 40 like any normal teenage girl, I obsessively listened to a weekly comedy show on the radio, recording my favourite episodes and memorizing my favourite bits. I may not remember my times tables, but I know just about every word to Steve Martin’s “Comedy isn’t pretty.”

After nearly three decades of voraciously consuming every form of standup I could get my hands on – and foisting the best of it on ever-patient friends – it only made sense for me to finally try my hand at it myself. Thanks to the expert tutelage of Dawn Whitwell and her “Comedy Girl” classes – a course taught out of Toronto’s “Comedy Bar” that teaches gals how to put together their own 5-minute set – I finally got the nerve to take the stage myself.  One year and several dozen sets later, I am still totally enthralled with the world of stand-up.

I am blessed to have a partner who is supportive of my weird hobby. A few weeks ago, he made an interesting comment. “That show was great,” he said. “But why were you the only woman who performed?” He had seen me perform at so many female comedy events that he hadn’t realized just how male-dominated the field can be.

After Dark, April 29, 2014

Now Is Not The Time
Random thoughts on the organizations which protect us
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I'd like to start by offering a personal anecdote. (Yeah, yeah, I know - but what's the point of being nearly 57 if you haven't had any experience worth sharing?)

When I was a nipper, and after I had embarked on a career as a playwright, a play of mine was a huge success. I was approached by a well-known Quebec film-maker to adapt the work. He also said he was going to teach me how to do things, along the way. He did.

I learned how to write a proposal, a treatment, a draft. I did all of them, over and over again. I adapted and re-adapted and changed and then fundamentally changed my play from the tragedy it had been on stage to - yup - a comedy that resembled not at all what had attracted the film-maker in the first place. And then it all stopped because a well-known Quebec actor (now a Hollywood star) reportedly wouldn't sign on. 

I later learned that the film-maker should have been paying me (and handsomely) for the work I had done. That it was all outlined in collective agreements somewhere. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bonus Feature: Lauren Mitchell's Top-5 at SheDot

SheDot: Top 5 shows I am looking forward to
by Lauren Mitchell

Introducing Lauren Mitchell:
By day, I work in academic publishing and by night, I am all over the city telling jokes. I like to sleep, I just don’t (totally jk I am the Queen Of Naps). I have always liked to write and I have always loved talking to people but mainly I love the sound of my own voice, so it was probably inevitable that I get into stand up at some point. It did take me a while to figure out though, and I spent a lot of time in school, serving coffee, and being an office monkey before I thought, oh man, I could probably just get on stage and run my mouth and maybe people wouldn’t totally hate it. All of that started about 9 months ago (just gave birth to a comedy baby, no big deal) and I have been telling jokes all over Toronto (and once in London, once in Hamilton, and a couple times in Edmonton) ever since. Other things you may want to know about me: I love Drake + all rap music, I don’t generally watch movies until they have been out for roughly two years, my style icon is Jessica Fletcher, and I think chocolate covered pretzels might be the best thing that we, as a people, have managed to come up with.  

Folks, it is almost upon us. SheDot is just around the corner, and I know you’re all probably like 'I am so excited, but also, so overwhelmed by all of the amazing shows.' Fear not friends, I am here for you. There are so many good shows for you to see, but I’m gonna let you know the five I am most excited about checking out in order to make your life so much easier. You’ll thank me later, promise.

The Question... Lua Shayenne on

a touch of humor and absurdism
by Estelle Rosen

One of six finalists nominated for the 2013 TELUS newcomer Artist award, Lua Shayenne is founder of the African dance company, Lua Shayenne & Company. Founded in May 2011, the Company has presented two productions: Departure 00:00, a Danceworks CoWorks Series event (Lower Ossington Theatre - 2012) and Djaa at the Festival International Danse Encore (Québec - 2013) and has performed in major venues and festivals: Dusk Dances, Dance ON Dance Weekend, Amnesty International’s Dance for Justice (Enwave Theatre), Kuumba, Afrofest etc. The Company is presenting its 2014 production,

CHARPO: Tell us about the process for selecting the two pieces that form At first glance, both appear to approach the subject of identity but from different perspectives. What should the audience take away from these two pieces? 
SHAYENNE: The two pieces that are part of my production, are Landed Immigrant and Hybrid. Let me start by saying that the title of the show is something I aspire to be. A cosmopolitan - a person who is free from local, provincial, or national bias or attachment; a citizen of the world. (cont'd)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Opera) Persée

Don’t Stop Believing 
by Shannon Christy

People give strange wedding gifts. Imagine for a moment that you have just been married to a stunning woman who hails from a remarkable family, is intelligent and incredibly witty.  On your wedding night you are presented with a gift: an opera about a bastard who is infatuated with a beautiful maiden engaged to someone else. The bastard then rescues her from many monsters one of whom is her betrothed. One would have to be sympathetic if Louis XVI was upset about such a wedding gift but if the original was anywhere near as entertaining as what Opera Atelier presented last night then it is understandable if the Dauphin and future King of France simply ignored the content preferring to indulge in the music, ribald humour, and beauty presented to him.

The story is about the exploits of Persée, (Christopher Enns) who is the self-proclaimed bastard of Jupiter and is in love with Andromède, (Mireille Asselin), despite the fact that she is a class above him and already betrothed to Phinée, (Vasil Garvanliev). Naturally Persée is oblivious to this and as a result a series of events unfold putting our hero on the path of capturing the eye of his desire. 

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) A Number & Vinegar Tom (Playwright Project)

Vinegar Tom (photo by Kreddible Trout Photography)
Mixed Blessings
The Playwright Project presents Caryl Churchill
by Jason Booker

The Playwright Project – now on its third iteration – is an ambitious and innovative festival. During the past two editions, various independent companies chosen by the curators have been assigned short plays by the playwright who is the focus of the year’s project. In year one, Tennessee Williams led the pack while year two put the spotlight on Sam Shepard. This year, England’s notoriously complex Caryl Churchill does the honours. In previous incarnations, plays rotated between venues and were scattered about the city, performed for one night in each location. For the Churchill edition, the festival returns home, underneath the Magic Oven pizza parlour on Danforth, a space now known as The Downstage.
Normally, this review would be two separate pieces since the companies aren’t directly connected to each other. However, as The Charlebois Post is only covering A Number and Vinegar Tom this year (so half of the four plays presented) and since the shows are all performed in the same space and connected by the same playwright, it becomes easier to think of them as variations on a theme. Presented here to contrast each other, in the order the reviewer saw them, thoughts on A Number and Vinegar Tom.

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) The Memo

(photo by Sunny Kaura)
Lost in Translation: 
An office comedy where Kafka meets Seinfeld. 
by Lisa McKeown 

I was full of anticipation at opening night of The Memo. It seemed like exactly the kind of piece I'd love: a comedy that explored the political nature of language in a corporate environment. Written by Vaclav Havel - both a political dissident in Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic - the play is a look into the absurd logic of bureaucratic management. It sounded like it was going to be both sharply entertaining and deeply interesting. And it lived right up to those expectations. 

The play opens with a company Director attempting to read an official memo which has been written in a foreign language. Unable to make sense of it, he inquires about the language it's written in, only to find that the company is implementing an artificial language in an effort to make company communication more efficient. The Director then sets out on a quest to translate the memo, only to learn that the bureaucracy behind getting a translation locks him into an infinite loop of corporate logic. The perfect language, it turns out, is designed to describe the world so perfectly that there is no possibility of misunderstanding. But in order to achieve this, the language has to be so complicated that it's next to impossible to actually learn. The Director of the company finds himself on a Kafka-esque journey of attempting to find someone who understands the language well enough to translate it, and who at the same time has been granted the authority and documentation to translate it for him.

Sunday Feature: Caitlin Murphy, Dramaturg for Top Girls

The Blood-Letting
When I first told my boyfriend I did dramaturgy, he thought it sounded like surgery for theatre
by Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin Murphy is a writer, director, dramaturg and regular reviewer for The Charlebois Post.  Most recently her play Fruits Unheard Of, about photographer Diane Arbus, was presented in New York City by Working Theatre Artists, and her story "The Perfect Bird" was featured at Urban Tales at the Centaur Theatre.  She has also written and directed four short films, three narrative and one documentary; Flushing Lacan (2010) and TOAST (2011) won the Jury Prize Awards at the Montreal ACTRA Short Film Festival. This summer her play Ladies Room will be presented at the London Ontario Fringe, and her most recent play LOTUS will premiere at the Montreal Fringe.  She will also be associate directing The Book of Judith with Sarah Garton Stanley.

When I first told my boyfriend I did dramaturgy, he thought it sounded like surgery for theatre.  
Not really, I laughed. Or was it?  

Regardless, he hit on an odd truism about the craft for me: I always end up stepping away from it, standing alongside it through analogy in an attempt to explain what it is. Unlike other theatre jobs that I could describe pretty easily head-on, dramaturgy sets me scrambling for similes, usually finding that so many fit. At least a little bit. Being a dramaturg is like being a cheerleader. It's like being a curator. A defence lawyer; a midwife; an ambassador...  Sort of.

Bonus Feature: Anna Gustafson on SheDot

“Behind the Scenes”, or “Inside the Delivery Room”?  
by Anna Gustafson

We’re having a baby. It’s a girl. She is the SheDot Festival, Toronto’s First Festival of Funny Women, and she is our first.  

Comedians are by nature very open with our lives. We offer it up every time we grace a stage. Each new brave endeavour is, in part, laying our reputation on the line. That is if you still have a good one intact to lay. It’s a giant leap, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Like parenthood. There is no 'kind of' pregnant, or 'kind of doing a festival'. This is only 'All in'.  

This baby was conceived in the feverish part of 2013. There were drinks. A blissful honeymoon phase followed where we believed we could simply call up comedy superstars and they’d be unfailingly available and generally affordable. Like us. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Opera) Roberto Devereux

(photo by Michael Cooper)
Caught in a trap
by Shannon Christy

"Hell has no fury like a woman scorned” - Virgil may have had his own twisted purposes for writing of Dido’s rage against Aeneas in the Aeneid but the idea certainly resonates with the hapless Roberto Devereux, played sublimely by Leonardo Capalbo, who is sacrificed simply because he doesn’t love the right women. Never mind that the right woman is the Queen of England and that the woman he does love is married, the basic primus of not scorning a woman remains. 

The story is set at the end of the Elizabethan age and involves Roberto Devereux, a cocky youth’s trial for treason by men who are simply jealous.  His guilt or innocence is never actually tried on stage: the central question is does Roberto love Queen Elizabeth I and the answer is a resounding no. 

This is an interesting piece because it plays with the image of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth, performed magnificently by Sondra Radvanovsky, and the influence of both her parents in forming her.  For instance, on one side you have a woman who has her passions and truly cares and wants to be cared for which are traits historians used to describe her mother Anne Boleyn but on the other hand you have a woman who has successfully put a number of men she was rumoured to have had affairs with to death for treason, a trait she shared with her father who is infamous for radically getting rid of wives who failed to produce male heirs. 

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Les Précieuses Ridicules

(photo by Marc Lemyre)
Giddily pretentious
by Lucy Wells

It’s been years since I last spoke French on a regular basis. But hey, I did read Molière in French literature class once upon a time, and I spent a fair bit of time on Menander and Plautus as a university student, right? And also, Théâtre français de Toronto presents their shows with English surtitles.  Definite draw. So a friend and I went to TfT’s latest production, Molière's Les précieuses ridicules, in a new adaptation, expanded with material from director Guy Mignault.

This production frames Molière’s one-act play with music and the conceit that the players are in fact a bunch of socialites putting on a play for their own enjoyment. The theatre space is small, the fourth wall is often broken, the actors greet the audience with chocolates, and the use of a semi-sheer back curtain to create extra playing space for asides feels just right for this repertoire. Mignault’s direction was bright and lively; I did feel that the extra material went on a bit too long, however. That said, it was in keeping with the fun of socialites going on tangents when their parts weren’t big enough…

Review: (Ottawa / Theatre) My Brilliant Divorce

A Window Opens
by Jim Murchison 

John P Kelly has ventured into co-production with a long time friend from Ireland Pat Moylan. Ms Moylan was on hand from Dublin for the opening and after a few words to the audience about their longstanding friendship and collaboration the play began.

The strength of one person performances is strongest when the performer carries the action and certainly Kate Hurman as Angela has the depth to pull it off. A great deal of her performance is steeped in sardonic humour but she is perhaps even more compelling in a moment of sadness when her tearing eyes are caught glistening in the light and her voice softly carries her love for her mother out to the audience.

creating a/broad, April 26, 2014

Asking For Favors
by Cameryn Moore

“How do you do it? How do you put a tour together? Do you have a manager?”

I’m not sure that anyone would be asking me that sort of thing if I were a Young Thing, still in my 20s, just starting out in my performing/tour career, but I think, at my age, people do expect that I have sorted things out enough for someone else to be managing the business part of show business.

But no. I am handling my own stuff. Except for the extremely rare invitation from someone who stumbled across my work and decided it was exactly the thing they needed for their sex week/conference/performance festival—this has happened exactly once for me in the last four years, hi, Ludlow Fringe, I’m looking forward to seeing you in mid-June!—except for that exceptionally rare event, I chase this down by myself. I chase everything down by myself. 

Maybe you’ve seen this, if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook. I do it all the fucking time. I make myself sick sometimes, how much I have to chase everything down:

“Do you know any daring presenters or venues in North Carolina, DC, or Baltimore?”

“Hey, everyone, my Brighton housing fell through, GAH. I need two weeks of free housing there, starting a week and a half from now. I have references?”

“I have three weeks between Ludlow and Buxton fringes, and am looking to do a show in Liverpool, or Manchester. Know anyone there?”

“Looking for a BYOV venue in Winnipeg, anyone got any leads?”

This, constantly.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Bonus Feature: Martha O'Neill on SheDot

Funny Peculiar; Funny Ha-Ha
by Martha O'Neill

Comedy is a funny business; as in, both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha (hands up, who misses Les Nessman?).

Comedians live in a separate space in the entertainment world; we write our own material, can truly only rehearse in front of a live audience, we book our own shows, create our own websites, hustle, fail, triumph – it’s really all down to an individual effort.  (With the exception of those who have managed to rise to the top – those (very) few often have managers and agents who help them book shows, promote themselves). Truly, it’s a look-out-for-number-one business.

Once we have spent years honing our craft and begin to work professional shows, we still deal with the promotion of those shows, the bringing the funny under sometimes less than ideal circumstances (read: late show Friday = drunk people from who we often need to wrestle the spotlight), poor pay… Also, dealing with hecklers (honestly, how this has been allowed to become a thing, I’ll never understand… you’re not helping the show!), fighting to get our pay, driving hundreds of kilometres to a gig that barely pays the gas money… on and on.  My point being, comedy is hard. I mean, not roofing-in-the-height-of-summer hard, but for a creative person, it can wear on the soul.

Review: (Theatre / Toronto) Cold Comfort

What is it about the Irish, Whiskey, and Child Death? 
by Spencer Malthouse

If you’re going to kill a baby do it definitively. I thoroughly enjoy seeing an Irishman try to come to grips with his family problems over a bottle of Bushmills but when you come to the crux of the issue you must definitively say whether or not the baby died. Anything else just seems like you’re dancing around the issue. Kill the baby. Do it however you like but do it clearly.  

That said, it’s a very neat idea to have your Irishman discussing what went wrong with his life when his interlocutor is the corpse of his Father. The premise and the writing in Owen McCafferty’s Fly on the Wall Theatre are intriguing. McCafferty works humour and subtlety into his script to progress the play and its one actor to the breaking point. This hour long play could have benefitted from some cuts (there is a lot of repetition of nonsense Irish filler and an overuse of the word 'gargle') but overall the writing takes the audience on a heart-wrenching journey.

SheDot Comedy Festival, 2014 - Index

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Of Human Bondage

Jeff Lillico, Gregory Prest (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

From Page to Stage (and Screen?)
by Greg Bunker

It is a curious thing that the classic British novel, Of Human Bondage, written by W. Somerset Maugham in 1915, has not been adapted to stage until now. Maugham was a playwright as well; his novel is considered one of the best ever written; and there are three film adaptations of it – the first of these launched Bette Davis’s career in the 1930s. Adapted by award-winning playwright Vern Thiessen, and brought to life by director Albert Shultz and an impeccable Soulpepper cast at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, this world premiere offers up some big artistic risks that for the most part are exquisite and rewarding. The story, though, is a tad belaboured in the beginning, and come intermission, I was nervous about where it was all going.

Review: (Montreal / Theatre) Living Room. Dark.

Living Room or Den?
When depression makes you feel walled in
by Tanya Naami

Mary (Alarey Alsip) enters the room, wearing old clothing with her hood pulled over her head. Illuminated behind her is a family portrait; husband and wife with a baby. She smiles as she tells the audience a fairytale: there was once a woman, who had a garden. And in this garden, there was a bird whom she loved very much. One day, a cat entered the garden and the woman asked her husband to kill the cat, to save the bird she loved so much. The husband got his rifle and went to shoot the bird. 

The metaphor of this tale drags itself into every corner of the play. Living Room. Dark. written by Leah Jane Esau and directed by Stuart Fink, centres around Mary; a depressive mother with an addiction to prescription drugs after an automobile accident leaves her walking with a cane. Her friend David (Jon Verrall) attempts to help Mary through this difficult period of her life, but fails to grasp the severity of the situation.

Review: (Montreal / Theatre) Mies Julie

Bongile Mantsai, Hilda Cronje, Thoko Ntshinga, Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa (photo by Murdo MacLeod)

History repeats itself, over and over again.
by Chad Dembski

Often in reviewing live events we are able to get two tickets to a show and invite a friend or peer to see it with us. For Mies Julie, which opened last night at Place des Arts in their 5e salle series, I invited a designer who I have collaborated with a couple times in the past. A work as complex, intense and layered as Mies Julie deserves a good discussion afterwards as it is a piece with many ideas.  

The play seems to almost begin the moment you walk in the lobby which is filled with smoke that is pouring from the theatre. As I entered I noticed one of the performers sitting in the audience on the far side right who seemed stoic and highly focused. The lights faded down and as the music swelled I got the chills associated with those first moments of an event where you are not quite sure what will happen. The woman in the audience got up and slowly made her way to the stage, adding singing to the music mix and providing a wonderful atmosphere to the mysterious beginning. As each performer entered from the audience doors I got a sense immediately that this would be a more radical adaptation of Stringberg’s classic tale of innocence to experience. Immediately a physical nature is established by the two main characters; Julie and Peter, jumping off tables and using the stage to maximum effect. Physical repetition is used quite often; Peter polishing black boots, over and over again and Julie pulling at her dress and hair. This connection to the physical nature of all three performers was transfixing as I don’t often see so much physical interpretation of character in Canadian theatre.

CharPo's Real Theatre! April 25, 2014

A Fly On The Wall, April 25, 2015

Evolution and Rebirth
by Jim Murchison

This week I was very happy to receive an email invitation to a reading at Evolution theatre. The last thing CharPo wrote about Evolution theatre was Valerie Cardinal's review of Hroses. There was a plan to perform Boxhead but they weren't able to. Even on a shoestring budget you need to know that they can afford the shoestrings. So there will be a world premiere reading of the Lady in White. 
I hope that all goes well for Evolution. They are daring and different. They can pack a punch and know how to take one and get back up off the canvas. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) A God In Need Of Help

(photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)
Definitely Not Black and White
by Keely Kwok

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.

Picture of the Week, April 24, 2014

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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Theatre Centre's Incubator series

From: Death Married my Daughter

Stories Robustly Told
by Zoe Erwin-Longstaff

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
Ahuri Theatre

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.

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) A One Night Stand With Shaw

Spend an Evening with Shaw
by Lucy Wells

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, and Passion, 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.

Review: (Ottawa / Opera) Madama Butterfly

(photo: Sam Garcia)
Delicate and Strong
by Jim Murchison
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.

In a Word... Yaël Farber on Mies Julie

Strindberg's African Dance of Death
by Chad Dembski

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. 

Video of the Week, April 23, 2014

We don't often put up "process" videos for productions as our Video of the Week but this one, for Company Theatre's Belleville, is so quirky and endearing we had to share.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

After Dark, April 22, 2014

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.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Question... Anne Plamondon on Québec Danse 2014

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)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Feature: Interview - Theatreworks Artistic Director Adrian Proszowski

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

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.