Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: 2017 Toronto Fringe - so far...

The Toronto Fringe is sliding into the back half and it's time to take a look at this year's proceedings, just past the mid-point.

The site moved to Dundas and Bathurst Street to the hockey rink pad beside the skateboard park at Scadding Court. The festival staff and volunteers have made a concerted effort to tart the place up:  there's fairy lights around the bar, a big, raised stage with a good sound system at one end, green umbrellas and colorful table cloths dot the floor.  The stage has been inventively programmed. The  DJs on Saturday night gave the place a great vibe and lots of people were up dancing. There's a tented area on one side to provide shade:all good.

Posters are  mounted at the front of the site and in the Jon Kaplan Tent at the path leading into the tent, beside the community centre. Jimmy's has a coffee stall out there. The ticket booth is also outside, at the front. Don't get me started on the ticketing system which the staff is struggling heroically to deal with.

The downside: the concrete pad is unbearably hot (and therefore pretty empty) during the day. When I arrived at 6:00 PM on Tuesday night to grab dinner before a 7:15PM show, the one lonely food vendor on the inside was just setting up. He had a few cold bowls available, but his grill was going to take 45 minutes to heat up. Cold tofu wasn't going to cut it. I wandered over to Dundas Street West and had a great, cheap Asian dinner at Chop Chop.

There are a lot of nice bars and restaurants in that stretch of Dundas, just west of Bathurst, but I would rather have given my money to the festival and its vendors.

After my 7:15 show I went back for a drink with friends:  the bar filled up as the sun went down, the food stall inside was operationalby then and it was a fun night.  I have to say however, that I approached my stroll out of the bar at 10:00 PM with some trepidation.

The park and the community centre at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne is possibly the only sketchier public space than Scadding Court on a major intersection in the downtown core. There are signs in the planters leading into the community centre asking patrons not to leave syringes in the flower beds.

The festival has placed a strong and very visible security presence at the entrance to the beer tent (as usual) and also has a security person at the entrance to the site.  I've locked my bike out there
(a few more racks at the front would be fantastic) because then I can unlock and know my bike and I are safe under his watchful gaze.

An exit from the rink that doesn't involve a stroll down an alley behind the rink would go a long way to making the site feel safer for this woman after dark. 

Meanwhile Honest Ed's is tagged and abandoned.  As I biked past it on the way home from the Tarragon the other night, I couldn't help but wonder why the festival couldn't have been allowed to use the site until construction actually started. An entire, once vibrant block of the city is now a dead zone of chain-link fence and vacant properties. There's another block of tagged hoarding and chain-link fence on the walk from the Factory to the site, along Bathurst Street between Adelaide and Queen, where some scammy developer has only managed to acquire half the houses he's hoping to raze for yet another condo project.

The festival has made the best of a bad business - a site move in downtown Toronto: a city with exploding land values and massive intensification in the core. It's too bad the festival can't just take over half the CNE for 2 weeks - or relocate there permanently and have a permanent location like Edmonton has with theatres on-site.  The Queen Elizabeth is certainly under-utilized.

The art:  the festival is huge this year:  160 shows. I'm about half-way through my viewing. I've missed the Robert Gill as a venue. I also stupidly missed Delirium the other night because I under-calculated the length of time it would take me to bike to the Tarragon. Sorry, Martin.

There's been a great pool of acting talent on display this year. A few stand-out performances:Jakob Ehman in 10 Creative Ways to Dispose of Your Cremains, Adam Bailey in The Life of Henri and Penny Ashton in Olive Copperbottom who sings, dances and acts her way through a panoply of Dickensian characters with great verve and wit.She also wins hands-down for best costume of the festival. Vanessa Quesnelle in Moonlight After Midnight gives a star turn in beautiful and very affecting performance. She co-stars with her husband Martin Dockery who penned the script: there's real magic in their chemistry onstage.

In other dynamic duos: Pete N' Chris killed it on Monday night before a packed throng of adoring fans in their utterly ridiculous romp through a series of holiday classics, A Peter n' Christ-mas Carol.  Similarly, Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner (Mind of a Snail) created a saucy, feminist, mad and unique look at love sex and relationships in Multiple Organism. They got a big standing O from the crowd who howled with laughter (and recognition) throughout the show.

Finally, I saw two solo shows that featured that rare combination of a great story and a terrific performance:  Sam Mullins in Weaksauce and Joanne O'Sullivan in She Grew Funny.

All the shows above are well worth a visit.

This weekend, I'm going to see quite a few shows created by women: more on that later. See you in the  line-ups and at the beer tent.




The Toronto Fringe continues at various sites across the West end of Toronto.  For schedules and tickets go to www.fringetoronto.com









Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Preview: TORONTO FRINGE 2017 - because I LIKE to watch...

 How do you know your Fringe billet is soon to arrive?

The rubber vomit in the mail should have been my first clue:  SHOULD is the operative word in this sentence.

Two weeks ago, a plain brown envelope arrived at my office containing a back-page -of the comics slab of rubber vomit.  Who the hell would gift me with a 10 year old boy's idea of a joke? No sender except for Amazon and some random gag supplier in Las Vegas.   A weekend of paranoid speculation ensued as well as a number of long, deep conversations about strategies for dealing with harassment.

A week later, I'm on Messenger with Penny Ashton.  She's my billet/Fringe guest this year.  Her promo materials arrived ahead of her - at my office as we arranged.  "Did you get my small package?"  she asked.  Oh no. I expected the posters, fliers and magnets but had totally forgotten about the parcel.  "Was it rubber vomit?"  I asked?  "Yes!"  I needed fake gruel and I thought - vomit - perfect!"  I sheepishly confessed to having returned it to sender with no note.  "Did they not put my name on it?"  No, because if they had, I would have known it was a prop.

I should have known:  as those of us who have been hanging around these festivals for a few years can tell you:  anything can happen at the Fringe.

Ms. Ashton and her petticoats are now ensconced in my domicile.  Kidding Awound in Yorkville had replacement ersatz gruel.  I'm feeling a bit less stupid now. Penny's new show opens tomorrow:  and the 29th annual Toronto Fringe Festival opens tonight.

What to see at a festival that now offers 160 shows over eleven days?

Here's a few thoughts, organized in order of venue.

Venue #1 Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

A PETE N' CHRIS-TMAS CAROL
 The beloved Fringe faves are back with a Dickens send-up.  I'm interested to see what the lads do with the literary great's most popular tale.

DELIRIUM
The lanky American storyteller returns with a tale he says is "search for meaning."  He five-stars and sells out a cross the country.  A number of people have told me they think this is one of his best shows. He also co-stars with his wife Vanessa Quesnelle in a thriller MOONLIGHT AFTER MIDNIGHT,  which is billed as both a mystery and a romance.

Venue #3 TARRAGON THEATRE SOLO ROOM

MAGICAL MYSTERY DETOUR
Gemma Wilcox is a physical performer of astonishing dexterity and precision, well worth watching.
She regularly sells out in Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Venue #4  Al GREEN THEATRE

OLIVE COPPERBOTTOM: A NEW MUSICAL by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton
Ms. Ashton is not only my room-mate for the duration of the festival, she that rare combo platter of talented writer and skilled performer.  I can't wait to see her sing, dance and act her way through this parody of Dickens.

JAMES &JAMESEY IN THE DARK
The admired British comedy duo are back with more high-stepping ridiculousness. I find them very charming.

Venue #5 THE RANDOLPH THEATRE

ROUGH MAGIC
My friends, apt 613 reviewers Barb Popel and Brian Carroll told me this was a favourite show at the Ottawa Fringe this year.  I quite enjoyed WEIRD this company's take on the Scottish play and I look forward to seeing what they do with a fanciful tale about the relationship between Ariel and Caliban.

6 QUICK DICK TRICKS: A DIRK DARROW INVESTIGATION
Magic meets comedy meets noir:  how much Fringier can you get?

VENUE #6 ANNEX THEATRE

BAD BABY PRESENTS: RULES CONTROL THE FUN
I always enjoy Janelle Hanna and she's working with Briana Brown who is a fine director.  I look forward to seeing her clown turn.

IN SEARCH OF CRUISE CONTROL
James Gangl teams up with Chris Gibbs.  Gangl is an excellent comedian and a terrific writer.  this will be well-worth seeing.

VENUE #7 ST VLADIMIR'S

WEIRDER THOU ART
Stephen Flett is in this:  it's hardly the Toronto Fringe until you've seen a show with Stephen Flett in it.

Venue #8 HELEN GARDINER PHELAN PLAYHOUSE

WEAKSAUCE
Storyteller extraordinaire Sam Mullins returns with a show I hope I finally get to see this festival.

Venue #9 THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE MAINSPACE

THE SEAT NEXT TO THE KING
I always check out the winner of the Best New Play competition.

TEN CREATIVE WAYS TO DISPOSE OF YOUR CREMAINS
Playwright Rose Napoli is a good enough reason for me to be there.

GRAHAM CLARK'S NOT HERE
Graham Clarke made a show out of a phone book.  This time he's apparently not even showing up.
I guess we'll have to go and see.


VENUE #10 FACTORY THEATRE MAINSPACE

MULTIPLE ORGANISM
Mind of Snail Puppet Company is beyond fabulous.  If you've never seen them, here's your chance.  If you have, well, you've probably already got a ticket.

PINEAPPLE CLUB
So last year, I took a flier and went, on my sister's recommendation  to see DANCE ANIMAL.
It was fabulous and I stayed awake through the whole thing after 11:00 PM on a school night.  At my age, that means it's a great bloody show.

VENUE #12   FACTORY STUDIO THEATRE

SHE GREW FUNNY
Chris Earle (Radio 30) directs Joanne O'Sullivan in a story that intrigued me.

As the survivor of a broken engagement myself, I'm thinking about DISENGAGED, also at this venue.  I'll see.

SITE SPECIFIC SHOWS

VENUE #15 THE LIFE HENRI

Adam Bailey (ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE!) and Laura Anne Harris ( PITCH BLONDE, THE HOME-MAKER) team up to tell the story of  French painter, Henri Rousseau.  I'm an art history buff and - full confession - Harris directed me the last time I toured - so I'll be seeing this.

VENUE #21 SCADDING COURT

SNAP!
A bunch of terrific Toronto actors team up to do a dark comedy.  Hey, it's next to the beer tent, so you don't tell me you can't find the venue.

VENUE #24  MONARCH TAVERN

MADDIE'S KARAOKE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Byron Laviolette  (Morro and Jasp) directs this 1/4 life crisis musical.

VENUE #32  FALLING ANGEL
Bruce Hunter is in this and that's a good enough reason for me to recommend that you check it out. Carolyn Azar directs this show which takes place al fresco - in Shaw Park - CAMH.

VENUE #33 LYSISTRATA
The ladies of Greece put the booty thang on lock-down until the men-folk stop being at war.
My Fringe experience is never complete without seeing some bunch of young things take on Greeks.

OK,  I need to order tickets and work out my schedule.  I'll see you in the beer tent - which is now at the south-east corner of Dundas and Bathurst, behind the Scadding Court Community Centre.

For show schedules and tickets go to: www.fringetoronto.com

Happy Fringing everybody!























Wednesday, June 21, 2017

REVIEW: MORRO and JASP are out of this world in the smart and hilarious STUPEFACTION


Two clowns, Morro and Jasp, dressed in their finest (by Robin Fisher) enter a theatre as the lights go down.  It’s a rainy night, they’re struggling with their umbrellas, and they’re late for the start of a play. Morro wants to take Jasp to do something special, to cheer her up after she’s weathered a bad break-up.

A rather officious usher (the very funny Elliot Loran) chivvies them into – one seat. The show they’ve come to see is delayed by technical difficulties.  A theatre tech appears (an excellent Sefton Jackson)from back stage and tries source the problem in a pit below the stage. Then things start to get a little weird.

Fed Ex (Anand Ramjaram as a charming sad sack) arrives with a mysterious package.  Is this a sign?

How do we explain the inexplicable to ourselves and to others?  Are there mysterious forces above and beyond us? Is someone – anyone - in charge, ever? What do we believe in?  How do those beliefs bring us together and how do they drive us apart?

These are big questions, and Stupefaction tackles them boldly, with a sense of wonder, ineffable charm, audience participation, and Cheezies. Annis, Lee and company make a night of theatrical magic.

This is the most ambitious Morro and Jasp show to date with a five-member cast and complex tech. In contrast to the big production values, the script has a kind of loosey-goosy vibe: this disparity creates a perfect container for the cosmic subject matter.

Make no mistake:  there’s plenty of skill underpinning the gleeful chaos that unfolds before us.

The sound design by Lyon Smith, Deanna Choi, lighting by David DeGrow and projections by Montgomery Martin adds a compelling otherworldly aura to the proceedings. The technicians on this show more than deserved their applause.

The entire cast delivers great ensemble work marrying physical comedy and hilarious, well-timed delivery. Byron Laviolette’s smart direction makes creative use of the entire space. He and his cast do a great job of escalating and slackening the pace in all the right moments. 


Stupefaction takes the audience on a wild and magical ride ending in a joyous conclusion.  Any room with Morro and Jasp in it is always a happy place. They’ve extended their run. I suggest you rush to  get a ticket.

Morro and Jasp

Kabin and U.N.I.T. Productions present

Morro and Jasp in STUPEFACTION
Crowsnest Streetcar
345 Carlaw, Toronto 
For tickets and information go to: www.crowstheatre.com

Friday, May 12, 2017

REVIEW: It's All Tru: Sky GIlbert doesn't let facts get in the way of politics

There's much to admire about the prolific and always provocative Sky Gilbert's latest play, IT'S ALL TRU.

It's a sharply observed examination of age, class, sex, and politics among gay white men, centered around a love triangle:  Kurt (a well-cast Tim Post), a buttoned-down, Brooks Brothers professor with a good job, a nice condo and a thing for younger men, his fiance, Travis ( an excellent David Coomber) a young theatre director who's nowhere nearly as dumb as he acts, and Gideon ( a heart-breaking Caleb Olivieri), a trick Travis picks up on some"dating" app one night when Kurt is out of town.

Kurt and Travis are a modern couple:  their relationship is an open one, with parameters and rules governing sex outside the relationship. Gideon and his ilk: hot, under-employed, emotionally confused young gay guys are to be used for sex and discarded like take-out containers.

Gideon however actually likes Travis and felt an emotional as well as a sexual connection during their one night stand. He flat-out pursues Travis with an endearingly awkward ardor and he does manage to gain some ground with the object of his affections.  Gideon is  spottily employed, he's been in trouble with the law, he lives in Hamilton and, well - he has no money.

Travis initially rebuffs Gideon, but as Kurt becomes increasingly controlling and proprietary, Travis has a decision to make.

Oh yeah: Travis and Gideon had unprotected sex (something Travis tells us he and Kurt NEVER do) and Gideon is HIV-positive. Travis is taking "after" pills (he forgot his "before" pills).  No one is going to die from this:  not like 25 years ago.

Consent is an issue:  did the party drugs they both took nullify Travis's consent to bareback?  Kurt says it does. Gideon is sure Travis consented to bare-backing:  in fact, he claims Travis asked for it.  Travis isn't sure-or is he?

This is where things got complicated for me.  Replace HIV with "pregnant" and you've pretty much got a straight couple dealing with the fact that sex without protection sometimes has unexpected and undesirable consequences not easily remedied by a course of antibiotics.  Geez, really, you think?

My sister was the lead defense counsel on R. v. Mabior, the 2012 case that redefined the law around HIV and disclosure.  The rule of law is simple and the decision of the court was unanimous:  you don't have disclose your status if you wear a condom, if you want to bareback (or your partner does) you do.  Mr. Mabior, for the record, was straight. My sister felt the law should be "caveat emptor".  So, apparently does Gilbert. The court did not agree.

By the way, Kurt could not call someone at the private bar (lawyers you hire to defend you) and get Gideon charged with aggravated sexual assault, convicted, and then incarcerated.  Travis would have to have gone to the police and charged Gideon.  The police and the Crown would have to have determined if there was sufficient evidence to lay charges.Travis would have to have testified at a sexual assault trial. Any half-decent defense lawyer would have made mince-meat out of his testimony.  Professor Gilbert really ought to know better.

Gilbert also has Kurt troll Gideon ( he's in a hoodie:  we and he can't see his face) at a urinal in a men's room.  Oh how I wish Gideon had whipped out his camera and photographed the incident.  A far more interesting discussion about sex, power, consent, and the law might have ensued when the photo and the story turned up on Twitter.

Without consent, it's sexual assault.  Why is it so hard to get men - gay or straight - to understand something so bloody simple?
Image result for It's all tru photosThe Cabaret Company and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre present It’s All Tru written and directed by Sky Gilbert, playing until May 14th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre 12 Alexander Street. Tickets may be purchased by phone at 416-975-8555, at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre box office, or online here.







 













Thursday, May 4, 2017

REVIEWS: Madness and Civilization: WhyNot Theatre Delivers a Compelling Prince Hamlet

It's WHYNOT Theatre's 10th anniversary and artistic director Ravi Jain decided to revisit HAMLET, the first show the company ever did.

It's was a wonderful choice. Jain's intellectual rigor, bold choices and risk-taking really shine in this imperfect, but fascinating production.

One of Jain's bold choices is the casting.  Most of the company are female. Jeff Ho takes the role of Ophelia - so we have a straight couple with the gender roles reversed - or do we?  All the women playing men are dressed in haberdashery. The only obviously female character on the stage is Karen Robinson, who plays Gertrude with great warmth and lush sensuality.

Jain's production effectively stands "received practices" on its anachronistic head. Nice going!

HAMLET is a tough play for a modern audience. In Shakespeare's time most spectators would have believed in ghosts,in an after-life,in God, in Hell and Heaven. For a cross-cultural, globe-trotting audience more likely to regard religion from an anthropological perspective, the play can demand a little more suspension of disbelief than it can muster.

Jain and his cast surmount this difficulty with elan.  When Hamlet's father's ghost appears on the ramparts, the scene seems to begin in reality with the guards,then shifts to Hamlet's bed as he tosses and turns alone and asleep. Did Hamlet dream his late father's visitation?  Is the dream prescient -or just a product of his disturbed imagination? Brilliant.

The Danish court, wonderfully designed by Lorenzo Savoini,is a hall of mirrors illuminated by gilt chandeliers suspended above a parquet platform. There's a visual nod to Versailles, but also to self-reflexive modernity, where we all watch ourselves and each other constantly on social media. The mirrors face the audience,implicating the spectators in the spectacle.  Piles of dirt surround the stage and as the characters are subsumed by their weaknesses and mortality; despair (Ophelia),rage (Laertes), carnality (Claudius and Gertrude)they become covered in dirt.

I don't think I've ever seen a better or more convincing Claudius and Gertrude.  In his pale, tight suit, silver hair just slightly too long, Rick Roberts epitomizes a certain kind of aging sleazebag.
I believed he would have killed his own brother in order to sleep with his sister-in-law.

His delivery of the "your father lost a father" speech was perfect: a patina of parental concern and reason coating a core of disgust and annoyance. When he prays, it's to the looking-glass, a moment less with the Almighty and more with the reflection of his own soul: a mirror held up to Nature indeed.

Maria Vancratsis is an outstanding Polonius, deftly drawing a meddlesome,self-important courtier and helicopter parent. The Stratford veteran's delivery was beautiful.

Horatio is played by Dawn Jani Birley. She uses sign language to communicate.  A skilled and compelling performer,the statuesque artist commands the stage.  Her Horatio occupies a parallel place to the audience, also seen but not heard, silent witness to all of the action.

Christine Horne, rail thin, her ghost-like,luminous pallor accentuated by an all-black wardrobe plays Hamlet as depressed, and so grief-stricken by the death of her father as to be teetering on the edge of insanity. Horne looks like she hasn't had a shower in a week.

Her scenes with Horatio and Gertrude are nuanced and credible. Her relationship with Ophelia is also well-drawn. She and Ho make us feel the loss of their love through the intrusions of meddlesome parents. Her relationship with Horatio is a total bro-mance, showcasing her mastery of Hamlet's wit. The scene with Hamlet, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is uproarious.

The night I saw her, Horne seemed less confident with the self-reflective soliloquies. One of the few flaws with the production is the company's uneven ability to deliver the text with clarity and precision.

Jain privileges the emotional underpinnings of the text over its gorgeous language. He has made a lot of cuts, moving things around in a way that enhances the psycho-drama and downplays both the supernatural elements of the play and the physical violence. No swords are ever drawn,though Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah's Laertes evinces a great and chilling moment of physical violence in the scene before the duel.

At the end of the tragedy, when the bodies are piled on the stage, Horatio is left with us, the dead, and the dirt to which we all return. Her grief is palpable. Hamlet's conclusion,like our own is inescapable and final.

Jain and company made all tickets "pay what you can afford" starting at $5.00 so money was no excuse not to see this fine and affecting contemporary production of what is arguably the greatest play in the English language.

I would like to apologize for putting this up so late. This is the second show I've seen and not had an opportunity to write about until after the fact.  The other was the wonderful LITTLE PRETTY and THE EXCEPTIONAL at The Factory Theatre.

I want the artists I've seen, but not covered to know I appreciate you sharing your talent.  The city is a richer, more vibrant place because of you.


 
WhyNot Theatre in association with Soulpepper present Prince Hamlet ran  until April 29th at The Franco Boni Theatre, The Theatre Centre.





Sunday, March 26, 2017

REVIEW: SOUSATZKA'S Talented Cast Can't Salvage Its Mess of a Book

With the help of a talented and devoted group of colleagues, a disgraced theatre impresario raises a small fortune and gambles it on a bid to redeem his reputation and his career: but, will his madly ambitious new musical be a hit?

SOUSATZKA's backstage story is crystal clear.  We know who the protagonist is, what his stakes are, and what he must do to achieve his goal.

Unfortunately for Mr. Drabinsky and his cohorts, the same can't be said of the production at the centre of the current chapter of his personal drama.

I saw SOUSATZKA twice: once in early previews and again on opening night.  I wanted to see how a team of world-class experts develop a new show for Broadway.

Apparently they move things around, make some cuts, and then add more scenes. 

In a program note insert provided opening night, we are told that Mr. Drabinsky's vision was to bring the Jewish diaspora of pre-WW II Eastern Europe and the South African anti-Apartheid activists in exile together in one show.

The source material onto which  Mr. Drabinsky's ambitious idea is fused is a 1962 novel,"Madame Sousatzka" by Bernice Rubens.  No South Africans appear in the novel, nor does the Holocaust.  The novel is about a compelling eccentric of a Russian piano teacher training a Jewish child prodigy who is torn between loyalty to his clingy mother and loyalty to his demanding music teacher.

So; an ambitious concept has been superimposed onto a novel about something else altogether, and then was turned into a musical, with a score written in several styles, by different composers. Richard Shire is credited with the music and Richard Maltby Jr, with the lyrics, and additional music created by Lebo M. who provided the South African music in LION KING.

There's a lot to admire about SOUSATZKA: a fascinating protagonist wonderfully played by a brilliant Broadway star, impassioned performances from a talented cast, beautiful choral singing, skillful  ensemble work, a fine orchestra and some gorgeous costumes by Paul Tazewell.

Alas, the show's unwieldy book by Craig Lucas is a mess. It has more plot lines than a Brazilian soap opera and there's a musical number - or three - to go with every one. There's sixteen numbers in Act One and seventeen in Act Two. SOUSATZKA is cluttered, clunky, manipulative and way too long. The direction by Adrian Noble is uneven.

The show desperately needs forty-five minutes to an hour's worth of cuts. 

The prologue, set in South Africa is straight exposition, awkwardly staged. The Holocaust memorial scene at the end of Act One comes hard on the heels of a skin-crawling rape scene that feels exploitative. A Christmas sequence in Act Two is lovely to look at, but does nothing to move the plot forward. There's a scene in a punk club inexplicably underscored by a sugary pop dance tune. The DJ would have been beaten up by the crowd in the Queen St. West punk clubs of my misspent youth.

The current messy state of the show is no fault of the excellent cast.  As Madame Sousatzka, Victoria Clark shines like the Tony award-winning star she is.  She brings the ambitious, cultivated, troubled and eccentric Sousatzka fully to life, both emotionally and physically.  Her lush soprano voice fills the theatre.  She also has the best-written part in the show.

Her prized pupil, Themba, fares much less well. Jordan Barrow is a talented guy who unfortunately only gets to mope around the stage asking "Who am I" over and over, mime playing the piano (Why, why, why?  Why not have the actor playing the role of a musical prodigy actually play the piano?) and sing a couple of the worst songs in the show. "Gifted" is absolutely painful.

There's a side plot line where Themba has a white girlfriend who's a dancer. The story is underdeveloped, goes nowhere, and was responsible for one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the night. Virginia Preston, who is lovely, talented and deserving of a whole lot better executes a horribly choreographed solo in a two-piece red spandex hooker-wear outfit, straight out of an American Apparel ad. The only thing she's missing is a pole.

The habitues of Sousatzka's boarding house: punker and good-time girl Jenny (Sarah Jean Ford); Mr. Cordle, an osteopath and former actor (Nick Wyman); and Sousatzka's childhood friend, The Countess (Judy Kaye) are all well-drawn and delightful and charmingly played. Kaye and Clark's friendship and old history leads to one of the best musical numbers in the show, the moving "Let Go".

The whole South African plot-line is poorly developed, as are most of the South African characters. They are under-used, under-written and awkwardly integrated into the action of the show. It's a terrible waste of talent.

Naledi (Fuschia!)is an interesting character, played by a compelling actress with a gorgeous voice. We hardly get to see or hear her. Ryan Allen is terrific as Themba's imprisoned father Jabulani Khenketha. His singing is magnificent. The moments when he voices the redacted letters he's written from prison to his wife and his son are some of the best in the show. At the end, it's not even clear if he's alive or dead.

As Themba's activist mother, Xholiswa Khenketha, Montego Glover sings beautifully, but her poorly -written role leaves her stuck playing bitter, strident or clingy. Why the dinner after Themba's initial failed concert isn't at her house, when she was the one doing the cooking makes no sense whatsoever. She needs more nuance and more agency.

The philandering impresario Felix Manders (John Hillner) and his snobby wife (Christianne Tisdale) do fine comedic turns and actually move the plot forward. The Gilbert and Sullivan-influenced choral number in their salon is great fun, but the scene that follows goes on far for too long. 

"Rainbow Nation" is a moving anthem and should be Themba's encore. It feels like the natural place to end the show.

The denouement is the result of SOUSATZKA's most problematic plot line and left me wincing at its insensitivity. If you're raped at eighteen, and you have a baby as a result of that rape, are you really going to be unreservedly thrilled when your son with the rapist turns up at your door? It's a pretty big leap from that ugly truth to a teary reconciliation.

SOUSATZKA feels more like a vision of two solitudes than the creation of one rainbow nation: three, if you count the creators' tone-deafness to gender issues.



SOUSATZKA continues at the Elgin Theatre until April 9th, 2017.  For tickets or further information go to:  http://sousatzka.com  





  













Thursday, March 23, 2017

INTERVIEW: Adam Bailey and Laura Anne Harris on ideas whose time has come (again)

Laura Anne Harris and Adam Bailey are friends, colleagues and Fringe rock stars. Tonight, they open remounts of their national hit shows, PITCH BLONDE and ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE in a double bill at the TORONTO CENTRE for THE PERFORMING ARTS for two nights this week.

I spoke to both of them last week as they prepared their respective remounts.

Laura Anne is coming up here from Syracuse, N.Y. especially for PITCH BLONDE. Her husband, musician Chris Peterson is completing a graduate degree tin the U.S. and she decided to join him for his final year. It's her 10th year performing the show.

Ten years! Where have you been?

"All across Canada on the national Fringe circuit. Also to FemFest in Winnipeg, to Orlando and Lancaster, P.A. in the U.S.: now that I have a green card I can go EVERYWHERE in the U.S. After touring this show off and on for ten years, going back to do it this time feels like visiting an old friend."

It's certainly a great moment to tell the story of a woman who persisted.

PITCH BLONDE is the story of Judy Holliday, the Academy-Award winning actress with an I.Q. of 170 who made a career of playing dumb blondes.

"The best performance of Holliday's career wasn't her Oscar-winner in BORN YESTERDAY: it was her testimony during the McCarthy trials. She needed acting to get out of the situation she was in. She used her perceived persona to control the interview."

Holliday's situation seems eeirily and sadly current.

" Roy Cohn, one of McCarthy's notorious associates was also one of Donald Trump's lawyers. Holliday was a woman who opposed tyranny. She was Jewish, and McCarthyism had antisemitic overtones. The alt-right is doing the same thing as McCarthy did: looking for bogey-men under the bed. "

She continues: " Holliday's moment of great success ( her Oscar) was followed closely by a moment of great infamy. She triumphed."

I ask Harris what is different for her playing Holliday 10 years later. "It's more grounded. I'm more grounded. " She laughs. "I've changed the script a little bit over time. We meet her husband, David Oppenheim in this version. I wanted to show Holliday's full humanity; to honour her story and to honour her as a person."

Harris has five starred and sold out everywhere with this show. If you've never seen it before, you're in for a treat.

A few days later, I finally manage to catch up with the other half of the bill, Adam Bailey. I ask him how the double-bill came to be.

"They (Toronto Centre for The Performing Arts) asked! And Laura and I have such a great relationship."

Harris directed HENRI, Bailey's play about early 20th C painter Henri Rousseau, which he's bringing to Toronto this summer.

"I am the gay son of an Evangelical Christian minister. I grew up in Belleville where my dad ran the Quinte Christian Fellowship."

That sounds like quite a story.

"It's called ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE because there are people who think I am on fire: that I will be in hell for being a gay man. The play hasn't stopped being relevant. In the States, there's this perception of gay vs. religion. But I live between two worlds in this play: the world of my upbringing and my world as a gay man."

How dis his family take it?

"My family is not a worry: my sense of responsibility is towards the audience. The play is an exploration of me trying to be truthful to who I am, in every sense. It isn't didactic: there is no right answer."

Like Bailey, I had a very religious upbringing that I rebelled against as a young woman. We talk about that and I ask him, how wild was he?

"When Amish kids turn 16, they are no longer Amish by default. They get to decide. They have two years to make a final decision. Some of those kids are pretty wild for two years. I was pretty wild."

I'm Catholic. We can repent for our sins. If you're an evangelical Christian, what do you do, I ask?

"What is sin? Less than perfection. Sin is imperfection. To ask for forgiveness is to admit you're less than perfect. We're all less than perfect."

Bailey is older now and he's married to his husband. I ask him where he got married. "Outside." After a pause, he continues: "One of the hardest things to talk about was respectability politics within the gay community. That stuff was important to what this has meant to me. There are a lot of harsh realities about being in the gay community."

That topic is as taboo as religion.

We are running out of time. I ask Bailey what he wants people to know about the show.

"It's hilarious!" Is that it?

"A friend of mine came up to me after the show at the Fringe last summer and said"You made me laugh so hard and then you made me cry and now I have to hurt you!" Then she gave me a big hug."

I want to give Bailey a big hug but we're on the phone so I just wish him Merde and tell him I'll see him on Friday night.


PITCH BLONDE and ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE are at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Studio Theatre on Thursday March 23 and Friday, March 24th starting at 7:00 PM.  Click  HERE to order tickets.  Please note you must purchase two separate tickets for the double bill.







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