Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“I’m afraid I took “break a leg” a bit too seriously”, quips Robert Fothergill when we first speak. The playwright is hobbling around after breaking his femur.  It’s healing nicely and the injury didn’t delay the opening of his latest play, LET’S GO…at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace last Wednesday.

Fothergill has a long history with a couple of guys named Gogo and Didi.
He first encountered them in London back in 1957 (or was it1955) and they’ve hung out intermittently ever since.

WAITING FOR GODOT may be getting a revival at SoulPepper right now, but at the same time, Fothergill and colleagues are presenting a funny and fanciful prequel about an earlier period in the lives of 20th century English language theatre’s most famous comedy duos.

It’s a charming, bittersweet look at a young Gogo and Didi, who Fothergill ahs imagined as pair of young vaudevillians, riding around from gig to gig on a tandem bicycle. “Bicycles were a trope for Beckett.  The tandem is a metaphor: Gogo and Didi are dependent on each other.” When we meet the pair  in LET’S GO…the two are at a crossroads: as a team, and, in their lives. They are also discovering they may be at cross-purposes in life.

Like the source of its inspiration, LET’S GO… explores what’s worth waiting around for and what’s worth going after.

Fothergill  seems to have taken his early time studying Beckett’s two most famous creations as fair warning.  Certainly he hasn’t wasted his own life. He wrote an M.A. on Beckett’s novels while still in the U.K, where he grew up and was educated.  He wrote his first play in 1965, which appeared in a festival of new work at the University of Toronto.  The following year he began teaching at York University, where he taught 1st year theatre history until 2006. Two of his pupils from York appear in t he current production.

He made a famous pseudo-documentary, COUNTDOWN CANADA in 1970, which may have been one of the first broadcasts of satirical “fake news” in this country. His play DETAINING MR.TROTSKY about the famous early 20th century’s Communist’s month-long detention in a prison in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1917 was produced by Bill Glassco at the old Toronto Free Theatre, forerunner to Canadian Stage.

Fothergill has retired from teaching but remains a very active playwright, with shows at Summerworks in Toronto in 2003, 2004 and 2007. After all this time Beckett still interests him.  ‘I wanted to take a second look at Godot.  Beckett was an incredible pessimist, in spite of having had a very nice life. Gogo and Didi didn’t need to end up like that,” says Fothergill. “Life is better – and worse than waiting around.”

At the end of our chat Fothergill very kindly asks me about myself and my own career and writing practice. This never happens when I interview someone and I’m very touched that he made the effort. “My wife says, Ask a question.” She needn’t have worried.  Like all good scholars – and writers, in life and in art, Fothergill asks at least as many questions as he answers.

LET’S GO…continues this week from Wednesday to Sunday at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto.  Tickets: Regular tickets are $25 Student and Artsworker tickets are $15. Tickets may be purchased online at ArtsBoxOffice.ca or by calling (416) 504 7529 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

THE ALIENS and TITLE and DEED get the Toronto Theatre season off to a fine start

The unseasonably balmy weather last Wednesday was perfect for opening night of THE ALIENS, Annie Baker's gorgeous gift of a play about male friendship.

Set in the warm and heady time between high school and thirty when everything still seems possible, THE ALIENS is a poetic ode to everyone "on the road to nowhere".

A couple of drifting dreamers, both pushing 30 spend their shapeless days hanging out: Jasper(Will Greenblatt) is an edgy, Bukowski devotee and aspiring novelist and KJ (Noah Reid), a music-loving college drop-out with mental health issues. Jasper just got dumped. KJ still lives at home with his granola mom.

KJ and Jasper have a band, they've had innumerable bands, and there's a very funny sequence where Jasper rattles off the various considered and discarded names for their outfit. KJ loves mushrooms and is always trying new ways to ingest his drug of choice.

Their place in the world is a picnic table in an alley that dead-ends behind a local coffee shop in small-town Vermont. They aren't supposed to be there. The restaurant's new dishwasher, Evan (Max Crumpler-Haynes making an astonishing debut), a seventeen year old boy with a mop of red curls and a face like a flower is tasked with kicking them out. He's studying music, so that doesn't happen. Instead, Evan starts sneaking out to join them.

The narrow confines of the Coal Mine Theatre are put to excellent use by designer Anahita Dehbonehie in Baker's subtle marvel of a play. KJ and Jasper are at a dead-end in their lives.  They're almost unemployable: hovering in the small space between artistic ambition and a desolate future behind a chain-link fence somewhere worse: the bottom echelons of a mall, a factory, a hospital or a prison. They fantasize about hitting the road, but their only actual trips are the result of substance ingestion. Sometimes talent and imagination are enough to propel someone out of a life of limited options, but more often than not,they aren't.

"Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens" said the Talking Heads. Something does happen in THE ALIENS: randomly and devastatingly, and when it does,the finite limits of time and possibility hit both characters and audience like a tsunami.

Director Mitchell Cushman and his talented actors do a marvelous job of bringing Baker's near-perfect script to life. This is a play with a lot of pauses and small bits of business.  Not one moment went on too long or seemed extraneous or affected.  THE ALIENS is close to theatre Heaven.

Over at the Tarragon Workspace, Christopher Stanton reprises Will Eno's lyrical TITLE and DEED. The tiny space is made more even intimate by the use of lamplight. Stanton and his director Stewart Arnott gracefully depict a man so sensitive and so uncomfortable in the world, he seems ready to crawl out of his own skin. Stanton's character may be homeless in life, but Stanton, the actor inhabits the text and the character completely. The delicate poetic play is also well worth a visit.

Two great shows in a week:  the Toronto fall season is off to a flying start.

The Canadian Premiere of
THE ALIENS
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Starring Max Crumpler-Haynes, Will Greenblatt, Noah Reid
Set and Costume Design by Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design by Nick Blais • Sound Design by Sam Sholdice
September 17 – October 8, 2017
Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:30 • Sunday Matinee @ 2pm
(Sunday preview @ 7:30pm)
All Tickets $42.50 + hst (previews $25 +hst) • SEASON PASS $140 + hst
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/TheCoalMine




Nightfall Theatrics presents

TITLE AND DEED
Written by Will Eno
Directed by Stewart Arnott
Performed by Christopher Stanton
Tarragon Workspace,
30 Bridgman Avenue

September 19 – October 8, 2017
Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm
Saturday and Sunday @ 2:30pm
All tickets $22 + service charges
A portion of the house will be held as Pay-What-You-Can on Saturday matinees
To purchase tickets please visit tarragontheatre.com/show/title-and-deed/
(*please note there is no performance on Friday, September 29)







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.