Life With More Cowbell’s Theatre Reviews

   

A history of hurt – Gruesome Playground Injuries @ Theatre Centre

When we were kids, my brothers had this friend, Stephen MacDonald, who was always getting into accidents and seriously injured. Like the time they were playing leap-frog over those large chunky wooden stakes that acted as a kind of fence/vehicle barrier around the park near our house. Stephen slipped and his leg came down on the stake, tearing open the inside of his thigh. Then there was the time when he fell on his elbow and dislocated it so it was bending the wrong way. My mum was a nurse, so the kids invariably came running for her. Surprisingly, Stephen survived his childhood of freak injuries, and he and my brothers lost touch over the years as childhood friends often do. Hopefully, he’s still with us.

Seeing BirdLand Theatre’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries yesterday afternoon reminded me of that kid – and I’m sure everyone knows, or may have even been, a Stephen MacDonald – although, unlike the play’s character “Doug,” I don’t know that Stephen had a “Kayleen” as  a close friend and intimate witness to the his history of scars.

Kayleen and Doug first meet in the school nurse’s office when they’re eight years old. Doug – pretending to be Evel Knievel, complete with cape – rode his bike off the school roof and cut his head open, while Kayleen has ongoing stomach problems. And thus begins a history of Doug being injured and Kayleen being there to witness, always asking “Does it hurt?” – and Doug believing that Kayleen has some magical touch that makes him feel better. The action of the play takes place out of time and space – the actors entering from a door upstage left, dressed only in their underwear. They emerge, back-lit, through fog and a cacophony of indiscernible sounds (design by Christopher Stanton) – like the garbled voices of memory, alien and distant, almost like they’re onboard an alien spacecraft. The stage (set design by Joseph Pagnan, who also did costumes, and lighting by Gareth Crew) is set with a variety of macabre and medical pieces: bubble wrap bodies, in various states of dismemberment, hanging on chains and sometimes lit red from inside; a bike chained up on the stage right wall; a jungle gym-like structure of scaffolding pipes up left contains one of the twisted plastic corpses; and the hospital items – IV bags, a wheelchair, crutches. Projected photos and scene titles (designed by Jordan Tannahill) guide the audience through the shifts in timing and events, the actors changing costume onstage.

It’s not all nasty and pain, though. Gruesome Playground Injuries has great beauty in the relationship between the two characters – both living with physical and emotional pain, but unable to connect in the long term. Doug and Kayleen’s reunions occur around dire and painful events. It’s like their relationship is too painful to maintain, but too intimate to dissolve entirely. What was especially intimate and tender were the moments when the actors applied make-up injuries to each other, then wiped them off each other after each scene, reinforcing the love and support between these two characters. Powerful, moving and darkly funny performances from Peter Mooney and Janet Porter.

Gruesome Playground Injuries continues at the Theatre Centre until May 13. For more info, visit the BirdLand Theatre website: http://www.birdlandtheatre.com/

Brilliant crazy fun @ Alumnae Theatre’s Così

“Asylums are the most inefficient places on this earth.”

But they can be a very effective place to produce an Italian opera by Mozart.

Alumnae Theatre’s production of Così opened on the main stage last night. Written by Louis Nowra and directed for Alumnae by Jane Carnwath, assisted by Seema Lakhani, Così takes us on a crazy dream of a journey as we follow Lewis on his first job out of university: directing patients in a play at a mental hospital. The rag-tag assortment of patients, all with various conditions, is led by Roy, who conceived the project and is hell-bent on performing Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. Only thing is, no one can sing opera. Or speak Italian.

The play takes place in early 1970s Melbourne, in a burnt-out, graffiti-riddled theatre. Ed Rosing’s set (built by Lionel Boodlal, Doug Specht & Michael Vitorovitch) and lighting design gives just the right atmosphere of grimy, charred destruction and darkness, gradually evolving as the play progresses to the opera performance – exploding into circus-like colour, lights and disco ball stars. Costumes by Margaret “The Costumator” Spence follow the same trajectory, going from somewhat shabby, worn 70s street wear to fantastical period costumes, as envisioned by the hospital’s occupational therapy group. Rick Jones’s sound design complements the physical design, bringing popular music of the time, as well as selections from the opera. Lighting and music combine beautifully – both at the beginning and the end of the play – to accompany the magic that Roy experiences as he dreams of becoming a part of the music of the spheres, book-ending a lovely lyrical fantasy.

Carnwath’s incredible cast includes some familiar faces from previous Alum productions, and the actors playing the patients did some especially nice work committing to their respective characters and their conditions: Joanne Sarazen (Lewis’s girlfriend Lucy), Jamieson Child (Lewis, previously seen in You Are Here), Ryan Kotack (Lewis’s friend Nick), Michael Vitorovitch (the unpredictable and likely bipolar Roy, GuineaPigging & You Are Here), Sean Speake (social worker Justin), Matt Brioux (pyromaniac Doug, stage debut – and he’s a natural), Christopher Kelk (the silent former lawyer Henry, Palace of the End), Patricia Hammond (impulse control-impaired Cherry, A Delicate Balance & The Queens), Tina McCulloch (Ruth, who has OCD, After Mrs. Rochester), Laura Vincent (heroin addict Julie, GuineaPigging, Palace of the End & Closer) and James Warner (pill-popping musician Zac).

Lovely work from this cast, who displayed commitment, passion and respect for characters who refuse to be defined by their conditions and are driven by a desire to rise above the chaos of their lives to create something beautiful. Just a few of the stand-out moments include: Ruth counting her steps as she sorts out her blocking; Cherry’s constant force-feeding of Lewis (her crush) and scary adeptness with a flick knife; Zac in lederhosen, playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries on accordion; and the various hilarious and astute pronouncements (like “Humility can limit you.”) issued by Roy throughout.

Holding all this together are co-producers Natalya Demberg (who, along with Sandy Schneider, put on a tasty opening night reception spread), Ellen Green and Barbara Larose. And presiding over the run from the booth is SM Margot “Mom” Devlin, who also operates lights, assisted on deck by intrepid ASMs Barbara Blonska, Sandra Burley and Pona Tran, and in the booth by sound op Emily Macnaughton.

Alumnae Theatre’s production of Così runs until April 28, with a talkback with cast and production team after the matinée on Sunday, April 22. Please visit their website for details and reservations: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1112cosi.html

p.s. – As promised, I added a few pics from The Beautiful and the Damned to yesterday’s post. Tonight, I’m off to George Brown Theatre School to see the third year class’s production of Orpheus Descending, featuring Tennille Read (who Alumnae Theatre folks/audience will remember from Lady Windermere’s Fan & Pride and Prejudice).

April 1, 2012

Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival – Week three program

Week three was the strongest program of the festival – with sold-out houses for the end of the week and weekend. My pal Kerri MacDonald (one of the NIF co-founders) and I went to the Saturday matinée and had a blast.

Worms for Sale (by Stacy Gardner, dir. by Janina Kowalski) brings another tale from the Rock, set five years after Newfoundland’s Ocean Ranger disaster. Fiona (Tajanna Penney) is 17, smart and longing to get out of her small town to Toronto with her mother Rachel (Jennifer Neales), who is still in mourning over the loss of her brother. Fi’s plans for the summer – and her relationship with her young high school teacher Matthew (William MacGregor) come into conflict with Rachel’s plans to leave when school is finished. Lovely work by the cast, which also includes Deborah Perry (Principal Hiller) and Bruce Williamson (Uncle Bernie). A touching, funny story of a family trying to move on.

It All Leads to the Lemon Scene (by Pamela Winfrey, dir. by Lynn Zeelenberg) is a darkly comic two-hander. Set in a laundromat at 3 a.m., Violet’s (Stefannie Flannigan) laundry chores take a dramatic turn when she meets Betty (Sheila Russel). Brilliant work from both actors and an edgy, gripping script.

Everything Blows Away (by Kelly DuMar, dir. by Chelsea Ferrando) is a lyrical movement-based piece. A man attempts reconciliation with a woman raking photographs after a storm. Beautiful, poetic script, and nice work from actors Gail Vanstone and Alex Bortoluzzi.

Finishing up the afternoon was Gloria’s Guy – Act II (by Joan Burrows, dir. by Anne Harper). A group of middle-aged friends catch up at a small town lodge when they come for their high school reunion, forcing Guy (Andrew Batten) and Gloria (Kim Sprenger) to deal with their teenage relationship history – and pushed together by lodge mom Jessie (Pat McCarthy). A very fun, sweet romantic comedy with a great ensemble cast, also featuring Krista Patton, Therese Arneaud and Bonnie Gray.

I was back at Alumnae Theatre this afternoon, this time in the main stage space for the cue-to-cue for Così. Mainly, I was there for the producers lunch for the cast and crew, and to see if the set needed any work – but since I hadn’t been able to make it out to a run, it was a good chance to get a sneak peek at the play. Big fun in store with this production. I took some pics of the set while I was there – and Ed and I will be back there Tuesday to do some final painting work. More on that soon…

Till then, have a lovely evening – and for all you Lost Girl fans, enjoy the pre-show and season two finale tonight!

March 30, 2012

Nightwood Theatre’s FemCab 2012 – strong, proud women inspire & entertain

I had not been to Nightwood Theatre’s annual FemCab (Feminist Cabaret) for many years – and I was so glad I went last night.

The Brigantine Room at the Harbourfront Centre was packed – with additional seating set up to accommodate the demand for tickets, the audience full of women of all ages, orientations and ethnicities. And my pal Lizzie Violet was there with me to share in the inspirational, entertaining, enraging and touching evening of women’s voices.

FemCab 2012′s amazing line-up included stand-up comic host Elvira Kurt (http://www.elvirakurt.ca/), who not only gave us some laughs and introduced the featured artists, but did an amazing job with the interview segments of the show. And I want her vest. DJ Cozmic Cat (http://cozmiccat.net/) spun the digital sounds for an evening that featured musicians, politicians, activists, actors and singers – like the audience, a diverse group of women (and one man). The evening opened with RAW (Raging Asian Women http://ragingasianwomen.ca/) performing on taiko drums – powerful, beautiful and moving.

We heard from Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (http://www.toronto.ca/councillors/wong_tam1.htm) and NDP MP Olivia Chow (http://www.oliviachow.ca/), both positive, hopeful and passionate women who want to create environments of equality, security, sustainability and prosperity for Toronto and Canada. Activist Anna Willats (http://awcca.ca/about/faculty.php) spoke on confronting the abuse of power – particularly regarding our system of policing – as well as violence against women, and encouraging/educating community engagement and leadership.

We enjoyed singers Evalyn Parry (www.evalynparry.com), Suba Sankaran (www.subasankaran.com) and Rosina Kazi (http://www.facebook.com/rosina.kazi), poetry by Motion (http://www.motionlive.com), a hilarious short film on panty liners for thongs by Dayna McLeod (http://daynarama.com/), a comedic/dramatic personal monologue by Shoshana Sperling (http://www.myspace.com/themonkeybunch) and an excerpt of Little. Miss. Everything. by Lisa Pijuan-Nomura (http://girlcancreate.com/CMS/index.php). Artistic expression in response to socially imposed ideals of beauty/femininity, rage against injustice, stories of everyday life/experience (both hilarious and heartbreaking), and moving sounds and voices.

And while the women who comprised FemCab’s 2012 line-up represent a range of disciplines and personal experiences, what they all had in common was their strength, pride, sass and ability to inspire.

FemCab was a one-night only event, but fear not, Nightwood has more to come this season. And look out for FemCab 2013.

For more info on Nightwood Theatre and its upcoming productions, check out their website: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/

March 24, 2012

Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival – Week Two program

Good morning!

What do Auste-esque intruigue with puppets, magic realism in a life or death situation, an emotionally tortured biologist and a Brit romance novelist visiting Bali have in common? They’re the plays in Alumnae Theatre’s NIF Week Two program!

Orpha and Beatrice (Act I) – by Taylor Graham – is an Austen-esque tale of how the friendship between governess Orpha (played by Nicole Ratjen, who also manipulates puppet Beatrice) and student Beatrice becomes strained when they both fall for the same handsome Officer Leyland (Daniel Sadavoy, who works the puppet brother), whose brother was meant for Beatrice. Both actors play multiple roles in this charming, child-like presentation set in an estate and adjoining village peopled mostly by cut-out people and puppets. Nice work by the actors in their multi-tasking roles.

Less Than a Second – by Gerry McBride, dir. by Peter Bloch-Hansen – takes us on both the internal and magic realism external moments where Lily (Mary Joseph) must decide which way to turn her car to avoid a deadly collision with another car, a transport truck and a woman with a stroller (presented on a toy road down stage right with toy vehicles and people). Chance (Peter Bloch-Hansen) appears, somewhat of a ringleader, with two Minions (Barbara Salsberg & Chase Lo) to intervene, mostly through flashbacks of Lily’s life where she made important decisions. How far will Chance go to assist – beyond his mandate? Really fun concept, with a It’s A Wonderful Life kinda vibe to it.

Biologist husband and wife Hewie Russert (Cameron Johnson, who appeared in You Are Here last season at Alum) and Beverly Tammer (Delphine Roussel) have been studying a rare frog in Costa Rica, which they named after Hewie, when the frog disappears. Hewie’s emotional turmoil over losing his work puts their relationship in jeopardy. What will Hewie find to keep him – and his marriage – going? Lovely two-hander and nicely acted.

If the title The Jewel in the Crown – by Diane Forrest, dir. by Sukumar Nayar – sounds familiar, it’s because it’s referencing the series of the same name, which British romance novelist Judy (Carol McLennan) and Ubud, Bali host Uncle K (Akshay Sharma) are watching together, likely on pirated video. Young Ketut (Kunal Jaggi) sees a chance to get out and see the world when tourist Rachel (Laura Ellis) is separated from her friends and needs a place to stay. Concerned about Ketut’s welfare, Judy is suspicious of Rachel’s intentions. Nice work from this ensemble cast, balancing both comedy and drama. Perhaps this play is the seed of something larger?

A few more chances to see Week Two: at the 2:30 p.m. matinee today and tomorrow, as well as the 8 p.m. show tonight. Check the Alumnae website for details and reservations: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/ideas2012-2.html

I’m heading out of town today for my nephew’s 13th birthday, so I’ll be missing the Week Two reading In Their Glory (noon today) – but I’ll be back at NIF next week for the Week Three reading and program next Saturday.

What have you liked at NIF this year so far?

March 18, 2012

New Ideas – Week One reading & program

So now that we’re all recovering from St. Patrick’s Day festivities, here’s a run-down of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival Week One reading and program from yesterday afternoon.

In the noon reading, Eating Pomegranates Naked, by Andrea Scott and directed by Kimberly Radmacher, a group of 30-something friends talk about life, and in the process unearth personal loss, sins of omission and secrets. The title was inspired by friends of Scott, a couple who eat pomegranates naked for easy clean-up/stain avoidance – plus its colourful, erotic, and even biblical, reference (was an apple or a pomegranate that figured in Adam and Eve’s downfall?) and in French, it’s grenade, a fitting word for the bomb that gets dropped during the opening scene’s dinner party. Lovely cast for this reading: Janine John, Roselyn Keladra-Sedra, Cameron Laurie, Khalil Abdul Malik and Jinny Wong. Stripping down the self takes courage and often reveals that what we thought we wanted most, even as it slips through our fingers, is maybe not what we needed – or wanted – after all.

The Week One program included four new plays:

The Man with the Butterfly Hat (by Donna Langevin, dir. by Anne MacMillan) tells the story of how the near theft of a rare Piano Key Butterfly by an old widower (Donald G. Baker) visiting a butterfly park is foiled by park guard April (Cheyenne Scott). Over the course of her delayed phone call to the police, the two bond over mutual loneliness and a love of music and the piano. A very sweet, short and magical play.

In Our Eliza (by Megan Coles, dir. by Andrew Freund), the middle-aged title character (Lavetta Griffin) takes us on the journey of her life in a Newfoundland fishing village through a series of flashback scenes with her husband (Elias Campbell) and father (Douglas McLauchlan) as she nears the end of her life. Really nice work from the cast in bringing the flavour and character of these people and this place to life.

After the intermission was a beautifully choreographed movement-based piece Let My Mind Run Dry (by Cassidy Sadler, dir. by Mairin Smit), in which the audience views the world through the eyes of Edward, a schizophrenic teenager who hallucinates an eerie old man (Erin Reznick) and young woman (Lauren MacKinley) as he witnesses with the day-to-day struggles of his farming parents (Jenna Turk & Ryan Kotack) and navigates the attentions of schoolmate Jane (Michelle Jedrzejewski), all who have no idea what’s wrong with him or how to help him. The cast did a lovely job, drawing the audience into the story – we became Edward – and into the troubled, frightened mind of a mentally ill young man as he struggles to cope with his daily challenges, both real and imagined.

Lover’s Flight (by Joel Fishbane, dir. by Jonathan Heppner) is a hilarious short comedy about what happens when a married couple’s (Bil Antoniou & Danielle Capretti) fantasy lovers (his secretary, Lauren Vandenbrook, and an athletic hunk she saw in the park, Andrew Piggott) go AWOL and start a relationship of their own. The couple must now face each other as they are – aging and not quite as beautiful as they were when they were younger – with interesting results, especially for the fantasy couple. Big, big fun – with the added bonus of a hunky actor with cheese-grating abs.

The Week One program closes this afternoon and the Week Two program opens on Wed, Mar 21 with a whole new set of plays and a new noon reading on Saturday – all up in the studio.

Here’s a peak at what’s in store for Week Two: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/ideas2012-2.html

Reservations strongly recommended – New Ideas is a very popular festival.

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