Wednesday, November 16, 2016


The first thing that struck me when I walked into The Citadel for THE DAMAGE DONE last week was the smell of fallen leaves.

The stage is covered with them, drifts and piles of them.  Collapsing beauty, decay, loss, remorse, and nostalgia for the long past autumns of childhood are all evoked by the dying foliage bathed in a golden light, courtesy of Guiseppe Condello .

At the back of the stage hangs an industrial window, the frame rusted, the panes dirty with one visibly cracked.  Downstage, a man in middle age uses a park bench as a balance beam, walking the planks with his arms out, then pitching pebbles at the fractured pane of glass.

This is Bobby (Wes Berger) and he's here to meet his childhood sweetheart, Tina (Sarah Murphy-Dyson) at their old haunt, a park in the working-class neighbourhood where they grew up. She's asked to meet to see if he will take their two girls for awhile, while she goes away to get straight.

If you're a George F. Walker fan (and I am) you've met Bobby and Tina before.  THE DAMAGE DONE is the third play in Walker's trilogy about the estranged couple and their travails.

In the earlier plays, TOUGH and MOSS PARK, Tina and Bobby are a young, off-again, on-again couple, struggling to face parenthood.

Nearly 20 years later, Tina has boot-strapped her way out of a childhood of abandonment and privation.  She's married a lawyer, got a house, gone back to school, become a social worker, raised two kids - and become an addict.  Bobby, a dreamer and petty criminal has gone in and out of work, and in and out of his children's lives. He's trying to write, and dreams of a life without the drudgery of manual labour.

Walker shows, as Dickens did, what poverty does to people. The stress created by insecurity about having one's most basic human needs met traumatizes survivors.  Poverty may be behind Tina, but the fear it has created in her has never gone away.  In the aftermath of a break-up, it's threatening to engulf her. Bobby, underemployed and slacking, looks like a disaster, but Tina is the one who is falling apart inside.

Berger and Murphy-Dyson have great stage chemistry and inhabit their roles with an authentic physicality, nicely enhanced by Ken Gass' confident, understated direction.

As always, Walker and Gass  underline the warmth and humour,as well as the challenges and sorrows of Bobby and Tina's troubled relationship and their messy, imperfect lives.

THE DAMAGE DONE is a clear-eyed and impassioned look at the  long-term consequences of an impoverished childhood. I had tears in my eyes at the end of the night.

Saturday night, Red Snow Collective opened COMFORT at AKI Studio, in the Daniels Spectrum Theatre.

Diana Tso revisits a particularly ugly aspect of the Second World War: the so-called "comfort women". Chinese and Asian women were captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and brutally used as sex slaves by Japanese troops.

Tso and her director William Yong tell this difficult story with great artistry and sensitivity, employing dance, live music and Chinese opera to support the well-researched text.

Tso uses the frame of a famous Chinese story, THE BUTTERFLY LOVERS to underpin the love story of Li Dan Feng and Zhou Ping Yang, who cannot be kept apart: not by class differences, parental opposition, or the truly awful catastrophe of war.

Viki Kim and Jeff Yung are very affecting as the star-crossed lovers. The rest of the cast does a fine job in a multiplicity of roles, handling the tonal shifts and physical demands of the various characters with great dexterity. I particularly enjoyed Oliver Koomsatira as Ping Yang's faithful and mischievous cormorant.

The live music by Constantine Caravassilis is wonderfully played by Cathy Nosaty (piano, Accordian),Patty Chan (Chinese  violin) and Brandon Valdivia (percussion) and greatly enhances the production.

I felt the second act could have been trimmed a bit, but the ending was heartfelt with out being in any way sentimental or cloying.

The play is not only an homage to the survivors of the comfort women's horrifying ordeal, it's a powerful plea for an end to war.
Aleppo ran out of food this week. The cries for an end to violence can't be loud enough.

These two new Canadian plays by smaller,independent Toronto companies are both well worth checking out.

The Damage Done by George F. Walker continues at
The Citadel, 304 Parliament Street (south of Dundas), Toronto

to December 11, 2016 (NOTE - No performances on Dec 1 &2)
Tues - Sat 8:30 PM,  Sundays at 2:30 PM
Sunday matinees are Pay-What-You-Can at the door. Tickets are available at   or by phone at 416-946-3065.

Red Snow Collective presents Comfort until December 10, 2016 at Aki Studio Theatre, Native Earth Performing Arts, 585 Dundas Street East (Daniel’s Spectrum), Toronto, ON  Tuesday – Saturdays @ 8pm • Saturday Matinees @ 2pm   Pay-What-You-Can Tuesdays
Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 416-531-1402, or in-person at Toronto Centre for the Arts’ Box Office, 5040 Yonge Street

PROARTE DANZA Opens Tonight as part of NEXTSTEPS at the Paula Fleck Theatre

Called "the best small-scale contemporary ballet company in Canada" by the Globe and Mail, (2012) ProArte Danza has been presenting its unique fusion of ballet and modern dance  in Toronto since 2004.

I've seen the company several times now, and I've never been disappointed.  The talent of the dancers and the strength of the repertoire are both consistently first-rate.

Tonight, ProArte opens their 2016 Toronto run with a double-bill featuring Fearful Symmetries a world premiere choreographed by Artistic Director, Roberto Campanella and Diversion the Ontario premiere of a work by Artistic Associate Robert Glumbeck that Vancouver's Georgia Strait described as "mind-blowing."

Campanella's Fearful Symmetries employs American composer John Adams' composition of the same title to underscore an exploration of the choreographer's own experiences as a young immigrant arriving to Canada from Italy, against that of the current generation of young artists, with particular attention to the influence of urban aesthetics and pop culture on both.

Robert Glumbeck's Diversion examines various departures in life, both expected and unexpected, with the company of eleven dancers performing to an electronic score by Britain's Marconi Union.

This season, ProArte's  dancers are Sonja Boretski, Caryn Chappell, Tyler Gledhill, Benjamin Landsberg, Ryan Lee, Sash Ludavicius, Tori Mehaffey, Daniel McArthur, Julie Pecard, Anisa Tejpar and Christopher Valentini.

I have seen fragments of this work in rehearsal in the studio and it was both charged and beautifully danced.  I can hardly wait for tonight's performance.


ProArte Danza Season 2016 Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, 207 Queens Quay West, 3rd Floor  from Wednesday, November 16 until Saturday, November 19th, 2016 nightly at 8:00 PM.  Tickets range from $25 - $45 with discounts for students, seniors, arts workers and groups. To order, call (416) 973 4000 or go to

Monday, November 14, 2016


It's November.  Even on a sunny day in Toronto, there's not much light, at least not for very long. Brief and golden when it comes, grey and dismal on the overcast days: by 5:00 PM it's dark.

Maybe it was contemplating November,the month of Remembrance Day and Dia de los Meurtes that has encouraged so many of Toronto's theatres to open their seasons with meditations on death and its aftermath.

In ACQUIESCE, currently at the Factory, David Yee looks at the relationship between an estranged father and son in the aftermath of the father's death. The play begins when the son is tricked by a distant cousin into coming to Hong Kong to bury the father he avoided his entire adult life. Sin hated, still hates his father. He's also much more like him than he wants to admit.

What do we get from our parents? As we, and they, age, what do we owe them?  Duty, devotion, charity, compassion?  What do we understand about their lives, really?

Sin has run, no, fled his past, but he hasn't escaped it and it threatens to overwhelm him.

It's a familiar journey; the angry young artist rebel son making peace with the ghost of a controlling and demanding male parent. Thanks to sure the directorial hand of Nina Aquino, a lovely design (Robin Fisher, sets, Monica Lee - props) and gorgeous lighting by Michelle Ramsey, ACQUIESCE feels like a fresh look at a universal human story.  It's beautifully and inventively told.

Aquino fills suitcases with luminous images: the shimmering detritus of the inescapable past.  She also makes great use of the Factory's often difficult mainstage, using its depth to move the action forwards and backwards in time.

While the play is deeply affecting,  it also has moments of flat-out hilarity: a talking stuffie in the form of Paddington Bear, Kai's obsession with face cream.

The cast:  Yee as Sin Hwang, the author, John Ng as his old-school Chinese immigrant dad, Richard Lee as Kai, the Hong Kong cousin and the embodiment of filial piety and duty, and Rosie Simon as Sin's long-suffering girlfriend, Nine all do fine work here.

Yee initially wrote this play as a much younger man.  The first act could have easily lost 15-20 minutes and never missed them.  It's a minor fault with a moving, heartfelt story about fathers, sons and families. The Factory's 16-17 season is off to a very good start.

Love, loss and string theory are currently on the boards over at Canadian Stage where  CONSTELLATIONS, British playwright Nick Payne, gets a Toronto production.

Ostensibly, the play is a human exploration of a scientific theory. If there are other universes, could there be one in which someone who is dead here on earth, is alive somewhere else?

The conceit of the play is this:  a man, Roland  (Graham Cuthbertson) and a woman,(Cara Ricketts) come together and drift apart, through a series of repeated scenes, played for different emphasis and effect.  Their choices within the scenes determine the range of outcomes.

You can see why actors love this play. It's really an extended acting exercise.

I've seen other plays written using the same construction. Toronto playwright, Erin Thompson had a hit on the Fringe with MEET CUTE  two summers back, which I think worked a lot better dramatically than this beautiful to look at, but oddly chilly production.

As a theatrical examination of human relations and theoretical physics, CONSTELLATIONS can't hold a candle to say, COPENHAGEN or POSSIBLE WORLDS. In spite of a gorgeous stage production, CONSTELLATIONS is also not a particularly engaging love story.

Hinton and his design team create an exquisite visual allusion to our planet's place in the universe: a tilting platform floating adrift in the cold, beautiful heavens.  The opening stage picture  with its wash of clouds and the mirrored back wall suggesting infinity is utterly arresting. The live cello accompaniment by Jane Chan underlines the action with an aching loveliness. The staging is fantastic.

The couple at the heart of the piece, alas, don't have much chemistry onstage. In a measure that further distances the audience from the material, they eschew the British accents written into the dialogue and perform them in good old Canadian, a decision I always find distracting.

The conceit of CONSTELLATIONS is much better as theory than as theatrical practice, although it's worth checking out for Hinton's fine production of an OK play.

AQUIESCE continues at the FACTORY THEATRE until NOVEMBER 27th: For times and tickets go to:

CONSTELLATION continues at the Bluma Appel Theatre, CANADIAN STAGE also until November 27th. For dates times and tickets:

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Last Wednesday on a chilly, dark autumn night, a few short days before Halloween, I went to see Coal Mine Theatre's season-opener, British playwright Laura Wade's BREATHING CORPSES.

It's a perfect late autumn entertainment: a dark elegiac meditation on mortality, and the effect one person's death can have on the people around them, even those who never knew them in life.

A group of seemingly unconnected characters are impacted by a series of violent deaths: a suicide and two murders.

Wade's play is elegantly constructed, smartly written, and filled in equal measure with difficult relationships and dark humour.  Here, doors are a potent and chilling metaphor. Do you really want to know what's on the other side?

Director David Ferry and his talented cast: Simon Bracken, Erin Humphry, Kim Nelson, Johnathan Sousa, Benjamin Sutherland, Severn Thompson and  Richard Sheridan-Willis skillfully enrich the inter-connected stories with their performances, bringing individuality, poignancy and charm to each  character and relationship.  I particularly enjoyed Erin Humphry's turn as a chambermaid in a semi-sketchy hotel. Is the sparkle in her eye the twinkle of charm, or the glint of pathology?

As always at Coal Mine, the show makes excellent use of the minimal space, in great measure due to the excellent set design by Steve Lucas.

In his notes in the program, Ferry muses on the difference between determinism and chance in the matter of death. Certainly none of us will live forever: that much is determined. The rest?  Wade's twist of an ending left me in shock:  horrified and laughing uncomfortably at the same time.

BREATHING CORPSES is a very entertaining night of theatre: especially if you like a walk on the scary side of the street. On a dark, wet November night, is there any other side?

BREATHING CORPSES continues until November 13th at the COAL MINE THEATRE,  1454 Danforth Avenue from Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30 PM with a matinee on Sunday at 2:00 PM. For tickets and further information go to:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Interview: WhyNot Theatre Presents the Beautiful and Innovative Like Mother/Like Daughter

Ravi Jain has got to be one of the busiest guys working in theatre these days.  He's remounting A BRIMFUL OF ASHA, his run-away hit about his relationship with his mother.  He and his mom open at Soulpepper later this week.

He's also helmed a fascinating piece of devised theatre ending its far-too short run at 918 Bathurst Street tonight, where mothers and daughters get together around a dining room table, and talk about their relationship, their histories both apart and together, and the impact of that relationship on their lives.

Full, rich, and fascinating, right?

Last Saturday afternoon, I spoke with two of the participants in the project, daughter, Ximena Huiza and mother, Isabel Iribarren about what drew them to the project, and about the process of creating the production.

Ximena is a theatre practitioner; an actor and creator.  Since graduating from the theatre program at Fanshawe five years ago she's worked in Toronto with Aluna Theatre. WhyNot posted on the TAPA blog, asking for mothers and daughters, where one half of the pair were born outside Canada.

You can tell Ximena and Isabel are related, not only from their features, but from their personalities and the way they use their bodies and hands when they talk. They're both lively, warm, sharp, engaged, passionate, smart: we talked for close to an hour and the time flew by.

Isabel and Ximena came from Venezula with their family, Isabel's second husband and younger son from her second marriage, Jesus, now 13.  Ximena started her theatre program when they got here.

When she graduated, she lived at home for 6 months. 'We can't live together!  We fight too much!"

Isabel went back to school also: a schoolteacher with a business degree, she went to George Brown here and got a degree in Early Childhood Education when she arrived in Canada.

As we spoke, I thought of the Chilean women I worked with at a formalwear rental shop in Winnipeg, while I was in university.  All of those women had been teachers in Chile:  in Winnipeg, they were doing laundry and steam-pressing suits in the back of the store. My own immigrant grandmother worked in a candy factory.  I'm glad Isabel is teaching.

I ask them how they are alike:  Ximena says, "Our personalities are so similar! We both want the last word."

How are they different?   At 27, Ximena is the oldest childless woman in her family in four generations.    Does she want children?  She looks at her mom.  They both laugh.  She sighs.  "Eventually, yes.  Not now!"

Her older sister is married with kids and living in the US.  So Isabel has those grandchildren moms seem to want. "Oh yes!  it's wonderful."

What is her best childhood memory?  "On Margarita Island, (off the coast of Venezula) where we used to go for summer vacations."

Their biggest worry? A pause.  We have a long conversation about both women's broken relationship with their biological fathers.  Neither sees or speaks to that man in their life.

We sit in silence.  I think of my own Dad and our mutual admiration society, how much we adored each other.  Last Saturday would have been his 81st birthday. Even though he's gone, I still know I have his love.  Not having that in life is an inconceivable suffering to me. The pain of it knocked all of us on our heels, reeling in the  silence of that void.

Ximena says, "Here, I am Canadian.  But I tell my friends, if you want to under stand ma vida loca, you have to meet my mother. They you'll know who I am."

We stop.  We hug.  They go back to Ravi and the other moms and daughters to continue to prepare the show.

I saw Like Mother/Like Daughter last night with a girlfriend.  I would love to have gone with my own mom, but she's in Winnipeg, and I'm not sure she could do the stairs these days.

It's beautiful:  delicate, generous, inspiring, warm, funny, and in moments, heart-rending.  Just like going home to mom.

After the show, we are invited to join the performers around a dinner table to share food and talk about the experience of being there, of being mothers and daughters.  Connection, community, catharsis:  these are some of the best things theatre can bring and this show offers all of them.

Please bring this back!

WhyNot Theatre in collaboration with Complicite Theatre presents Like Mother/Like Daughter until October 30th at 918 Bathurst Street:

Saturday, October 1, 2016

For Jem Rolls: On the End of the Fringe and the Coming Winter

Dear Jem,
Only you
Could have written
With such insight and passion
About summer '16 on the road.
The permutations and the combinations
and the machinations
the money making
and the money losing
the worry
and the bitching
and the magic
and the pleasure and
the beauty
and the magic
and the
art and the joy and
the fun, fun, fun
until September rolls away...

One old grey, gloomy certainty
hangs over us all:
winter is coming.

We have survived other winters, you and I
In Winnipeg,
For the love of freezing!
I cherish my memories of you
wandering the streets of Fort Rouge
Talking to yourself like a madman
As you prepared for the inevitable
of seasons, and your next show.
I was just shivering over to Safeway or the MLCC.
No poetry was coursing through me,
Just thoughts of my next dinner
Or the week ahead at work.

The quotidian is not your metier,
All this fretting about ticket prices,
and board decisions
and un-lotteries,
and lousy, under-qualified reviewers
and whether or not
the clowns and the improvisors
and the re-mounters
Will inherit the circuit
Is just sound and fury
Signifying one sorry certainty:
The tour is over for another year.

Winter is coming: but spring will follow.

In eight months:
you'll be back,
a return as inevitable as robins
tender leaves and a warmer sun.

We're writers:
Nothing is going to shut us up,
 although we may
Spend the next few months indoors
in the zone of rumination and creation.
We need to really:
that new show won't write itself.
There will be another stage
and another audience
and more nights of
donning the motley
and going here and there:
So fret not:
There's only one Jem Rolls
and you must do
what you must do: write more poems.

Face it;
there's no point in worrying about money,
as my old dad often pointed out:
you're born owing the hospital
and you die owing the undertaker.

Sure five stars, a 300 seater and a sold-out run
in every town on the circuit
might make for a better winter someplace warm,
but you didn't think being a poet
was any way to get rich,
did you?

No one is getting rich out there:
We all know it.

We've done what we loved
with people we loved being with.
And on a good night, we put on a good show
people who spend their time off with us
enjoy themselves and give us $10 apiece.

I feel richer every time I get to do it.
For now I'll keep daily grinding
my way out of (tour) debt and treasure
my horde of memories
of time well wasted
with you sorry lot
on the road.

Sometimes the stars align
(and no, not the ones in the papers
on top of the reviews)
and you go home in September
ahead and not behind
with the bank and the backers.

Sometimes not.

Forget about money.

This was never about money.
It's a lottery.

Can you win a lottery?
Sure. We've both won CAFF.
And sometimes, you get that hit and the hold-over:
the dosh and the glory and the touch of envy.

The Fringe is about art and ideas and pleasure.
It is about intellectual freedom and being a free spirit
in a room full of free spirits being spirited together.

Uplift me
in the beer tent
and tell me of your travels
when next we meet.

The stars will align:
There will be more poetry,
More passion,
More pleasures
More warm, lovely summer nights.


Monday, September 5, 2016


Theatre has a long and worthy tradition of droll, subversive social satire. From Moliere to Michael Healey there have been many excellent playwrights whose work takes gleeful delight in tipping sacred cows: politicians, fads, fallacies, and social conventions.

I love political and social satire, but sadly, I don't see much of it on the stages of regular theatres.  Of late, productions on offer dealing with the current state of the world tend to be both very very serious, and  bum-numbingly tedious.

When comedies are mounted, they veer to the fluffy, unchallenging sort: long on laughs, and short on substance. Every summer, old-school farces and Norm Foster plays crop up like dandelions on stock stages and rep houses across the country.

It was, therefore, delightfully refreshing to visit Second City last Tuesday night for the opening of the  intelligent, shrewdly observed, and very funny COME WHAT MAYHEM. The impressively talented team of Roger Bainbridge, Kyle Dooley, Lindsay Mullan, Ann Pornel, Brandon Hackett and Becky Johnson have collectively created a two-act sketch show that adroitly takes on everything from shape-wear to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The breadth of topics and the cleverness and invention with which the myriad subjects are handled is a marvel. One of my favourite moments is a game show (with some audience involvement) that explores the contestants' knowledge of current events. It seems most of us know a lot more about entertainment news than we do about world affairs. Are we willfully ignoring the relentless assault of bad news from around the globe, or are we just plain dumb? MAYHEM offers a drawer full of similarly sharp knives, tossed with precision and flair.

The company has wonderful stage chemistry. They took amazing risks with each other, and with the up-to-the-minute material they have so brilliantly devised. Director Carly Heffernan  has ensured the show is both fast-paced and well-shaped.

Since 1959, Second City has presented and produced some of the finest comedy writers and performers of that generation. The current crew is certainly a bumper crop.

Go check out COME WHAT MAYHEM. Not only will you experience a laugh filled, thrilling night of high-stakes sketch comedy; you'll be able to say you saw these terrific, young performers live, up close, and personal as they ascended to comedy stardom.

COME WHAT MAYHEM continues at the Second City Mainstage in Toronto at 51 Mercer Street from Tuesday to Sunday. For further information or to reserve tickets: or call (416) 343-0011