Friday, November 14, 2014


I had a two show Sunday last weekend:  it was almost like a Fringe festival Sunday.

My day started at Queen and Spadina where I went to see CIRCLE JERK, a collection of four short plays punctuated by musical interludes.

Rather than the usual recorded interval music, Soup Can Theatre, safeword and Aim for the Tangent commissioned composers to write interstitial music inspired by the lines that begin and end each of the four, short plays that form the circle.

Those lines were elicited from from over 300 audience submissions.  The companies settled on "Subtlety is not your specialty", "What's Bulgarian for slut?", " I think it's time we talked about your filthy rituals" and "I fucking hate potatoes".

DUST PEDDLING feature Scott Dermondy ( who also wrote this script) and Lisa Hamalainen having a mildly kinky sexy time.  She requires poetry of her lover, and his choices are not always to her liking. I enjoyed the actors' enthusiastic performances, which were well directed by Joanne Williams, but I was less keen on the amorphous text.

SEX and THIS feature Tiffany Deobald and Carys Lewis, as two friends preparing for a costume party being hosted by a frenemy. Things change when they receive a disturbing electronic message.Wesley J. Colford's study of the influence of of social media on the rituals of grieving  among the young is sensitive and well-observed. It was deftly staged by Jakob Ehman.  The text could have done with a bit of pruning, but it was affecting and well-done.

We then had an interval, and returned to MAYPOLE ROSE, my favourite of the shorts.  The script is about a young gay married couple having a night in. One fella is a suit and the other a former twink, turned house-husband.  Alexander Plouffe and G. Kyle Shields made an adorable couple, teetering on one of those turning points in a marriage. Brandon Crone did a fine job both writing and directing.  Fair warning:  you may never look at a banana the same way again.

The final piece, THE SESSION is a high-stakes micro drama set in a nuclear plant.  It's a smart script, if a bit too wordy, though very well performed by Allan Michael Brunet and Matt Pilipiak, as a bottle rocket of a safety engineer and an uptight, newbie HR appointed therapist, respectively. The ending packs a wallop.

It's a tiny space. The writers are young and often loquacious.  The intimacy of the space makes the pieces even more in-your-face, but that's part of the charm of the work.  I enjoyed CIRCLE JERK.  It was committed work from a bunch of energetic young theatre practitioners, self-producing with their own money.  Go with an open mind.  It's not polished perfection, but it is entertaining, challenging, spirited and fun.

Polished perfection takes place over at COALMINE THEATRE, a 65 seat space at Pape and Danforth. Layne Coleman rigorously directs a stellar cast in a gritty, blackly hilarious, and deeply humane production of Stephen Adly Guiguris' Tony-nominated, THE MOTHER F**KER WITH THE HAT.

Jackie (Sergio Di Zio) and Veronica (a terrific Melissa D'Agostino) are childhood sweethearts.  He's fresh out of the joint, and trying to hang onto his sobriety. Veronica is still drinking hard, and using, but she's a workhorse, who has held down their place, and waited for him to get out and clean up.

When Jackie comes home with news of  a job, they decide to celebrate but then, the appearance of a hat on their breakfast table causes all hell to break loose.  What's been going on while he's been away?  Is there another man?

Wounded, scared and furious, Jackie sets off to find the MOFO who left his hat. He heads over to his sponsor's place, Ralph D (a note-perfect Ted Dykstra playing a guy you alternate between pitying and wanting to punch) who is living with his chronically pissed off wife, the sullen and sorry Victoria (a cast against type, and very good Nicole Stamp). He also enlists his put-upon gay cousin, Julio (Juan Chorian in a show-stealing turn) to help him exact revenge.

I don't want to tell you what happens, because I want you to go see this show.  It is a great examination of guilt, betrayal, loyalty and lies in long relationships and old friendships.

Di Zio is the engine of this piece, and he sensibly runs at a low, tight throttle for most of it.  He reminded me of a pissed-off cat about pounce. It is a finely nuanced performance, and he takes us where we need to go. I defy you to leave the theatre with a dry eye.

This is great script, well-directed, in an intimate space, with a uniformly wonderful cast.  Get a ticket:  this will sell out.

CIRCLE JERK is at lemonTree studio, 196 SPADINA  (lower level) just north of Queen, Friday to Sunday until November 23rd. for tickets

THE MOTHER F**KER WITH THE HAT is at the Coalmine Theatre , 798 Danforth Street. Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 pm.  No show Mondays.  Tickets:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Smart Southern Gothic: TAKE ME BACK TO JEFFERSON at Factory Theatre

Last Friday night, I headed off to see a revival of Theatre Smith-Gilmour's adaptation of William Faulkner's 1930's novel, AS I LAY DYING.

Theatre Smith-Gilmour has made a fine business out of adapting literature into theatre using its unique Lecoq -influenced blend of text and physical theatre.  Here, the marriage is particularly successful and the company gives a full throttle physical adaptation of the book.

Faulkner's dense, multi-character, lyrical text is a study of a family hell-bent on disaster.  Tragedy after tragedy befalls them, often thanks to their lazy, stubborn, self-pitying, selfish and not-overly bright patriarch, Anse Bundren.

Dean Gilmour is masterful as Anse, showing every unsavoury angle of his repellant character.  It's a rare actor who can play someone like this, without trying to make him likeable.  Gilmour never falls into that trap.  As the audience, we can laugh at Anse, pity him, hate him, feel repulsed by him, resent him, but we also see him as he sees himself,: hard done by, and set upon by vicissitude, just trying to get by in a harsh world.

Anse's wife Addie ( a great physical performance from Michelle Smith)  lays dying as her son, Cash meticulously constructs her coffin beneath her bedroom window. The doctor, Peabody is summoned, but too late. Addie dies, and her brood determines they will take her body to the town of Jefferson, where Addie is from, to bury her, as was her wish.

That night, heavy rain falls.  The deluge triggers a series of events that lead the strained family lurching on a torturous road trip, where they meet one catastrophe after another, usually made worse by some self-centred decision of Anse's.

The rest of the Bundren family is is very well conveyed by Nina Gilmour as the heart-breaking Dewy Dell, Ben Muir as fury-wild Jewel, Daniel Roberts as sweet, little Vardaman, whose imagination leads him to think his mother may have become a fish, Dan Watson as stoic Cash and Julian De Zotti in a fine turn as Darl, a young man drifting into madness.They mastered a very physically demanding style while doing lovely work with the challenging text

The above-mentioned cast also plays all the other characters that appear in the epic story, with the addition of some bird-like noses and a few deft shifts of costume pieces.  Andre Du Toit (lighting) and Teresa Przybyski (set and costumes) provide a magnificently evocative, yet minimal design, conveying the poverty of the inhabitants, and the epic scope of the tragedies that befall them.

This version worked much better on textual level than the earlier production I saw.  This is a stunningly effective adaptation of an epic tragedy.  I highly recommend it.