Sunday, December 20, 2015


At 8:30 AM on the last week of school before the Christmas break, Eponine Lee took  some time before she left for class to speak with me about her star turn, this holiday season, in TAILS FROM the CITY at EVERGREEN BRICKWORKS.

Not only is she the star, but she was also the playwright's muse.  "My aunty Majorie (Chan) wrote the play for me," she explained during our breakfast on the phone chat last week.

Her father, Richard explains that aunty is an honorific.  Marjorie Chan and Lee's mother, director Nina Aquino are long-time friends and colleagues. Though the role was created with her in mind, it wasn't handed to her.  Eponine had a four hour interview with the show's director, Jennifer Brewin before being selected to take on the part.

It's not Eponine's first acting gig.  She was in CARRIED AWAY ON THE CREST OF A WAVE, at the Tarragon two seasons back.  She's also been in two plays at school.

Acting outdoors is different, she tells me.  For one thing, she has to run from scene to scene.  "The audience gets to walk, but we run." I ask about her favourite part of the play. " Oh The Wild Dinner Party! " Her character,  Bille has dinner with a fox, squirrels and, it being Toronto, a raccoon. "There's real food.  Carrots, buns and chips." Then she explains, "They're not REAL wild animals.  They're actors."  Has she seen any real wild animals at the Brickworks?  Yes, squirrels, birds, but so far, no raccoons.

When she's not acting, she's reading, playing with her toy Yorkie and hanging out with friends and family. She has quite a broad taste in literature.  We discussed everything from Geronimo and the Kingdom of Fantasy to Charlotte's Web and Archie comics. 

Miss Lee is not neglecting her studies.  She only missed two days of school during the strenuous tech period.  Otherwise, she was a full-time student with a full-time job until this weekend, not an easy task for an actor of any age.

She does get a few days off at Christmas.  What would she like for Christmas, I wondered?  Shopkins, an armadillo puppet, and a little dog on a leash.
There are rumours Santa puts in an appearance in TALES... I hope Eponine got a chance to tell him what she wants: or perhaps he'll read this post.  She's certainly been a good, hard-working girl this season, and I think she well deserves a few treats, along with a rest, and some time with her family. After Boxing Day she continues performing until the 30th.  I can't wait to see her!

TAILS FROM THE CITY plays at Evergreen Brickworks from December 10-30 at 7:30 PM and matinees at 4:30 PM on the 19/21/23  THERE ARE NO PERFORMANCES ON DECEMBER 13/20/24/25/26

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Finally!  The pervasive gloom that characterized the start of the Toronto theatre season has lifted and the hallowed and gracious time has begun.  Seasonal jewels for every taste and pocketbook are currently sparkling on stages all over town.  Many of these events are family-friendly, so if you need to get out of the house with the kids and encourage synaptic activity, here's your chance!

Ross Petty has brought the great English Music Hall tradition of the English Christmas panto to Toronto for the past 20 years. This year Petty and his talented cast and crew offer PETER PAN IN WONDERLAND. Petty has chosen to play Captain Hook as his swan song, and I'm sure he'll be in fine form. I haven't seen it yet, but the press on it has been very good, and I always find Petty's shows flat-out fun.

Down the street, just behind the Eaton Centre, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, THE CHRISTMAS STORY runs this weekend and next.  A choir subs in for the Heavenly Host in this re-enactment of the New Testament story of the birth of Jesus. There will be a real baby in the starring role, always a bonus! Some performances have sign-language interpretation.  It's a pay-what-you-can event, so it is wallet, as well as family friendly

Over at the Brickworks, Common Boots Theatre is presenting a play performed outdoors, TAILS FOR THE CITY, with raccoons, squirrels (well, actors playing raccoons and squirrels, though at the brickworks you never know!) and eight year old star, Eponine Lee as a young girl who escapes to have a Christmas Eve adventure with some furry friends.  There's a rumour that Santa may put in an appearance! A shuttle bus from Broadview station will take you to the theatre, and  there's hot chocolate on hand to help keep you warm once you arrive.

Over at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Leslieville, John D. Huston and The Madrigals perform Charles Dickens' own version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  Huston has been touring Canada with this production for 23 years, delivering the beloved text in the persona of the author himself. Huston bears a remarkable resemblance to Dickens.  I have seen this production many times, and I never tire of his fine performance of Dickens' tale of Scrooge's reformation. His Toronto shows with The Madrigals' beautifully harmonized period music are always an extra-special treat.  Huston is joined by various well-known folk musicians in venues across Canada this month, including the National Arts Centre's 4th Stage. He frequently sells out, so book a ticket sooner, rather than later.

Tear yourself away from shopping, wrapping, cleaning and fretting over the to-do list for a few hours, and go and enjoy at least one of these fine productions. You'll be glad you did.

PETER PAN IN WONDERLAND continues at THE ELGIN THEATRE, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto until January 3rd. for a full performance schedule, tickets and information.

THE CHRISTMAS STORY continues on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,at THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY ( behind the Eaton Centre)  twice each day at 4:30 & 7:30 PM.   Reservations are strongly recommended. or (416) 598 4521 for tickets or further information.

TALES FROM THE CITY plays at Evergreen Brickworks from December 10-30 at 7:30 PM and matinees at 4:30 PM on the 19/21/23  THERE ARE NO PERFORMANCES ON DECEMBER 13/20/24/25/26

A CHRISTMAS CAROL plays at The RED SANDCASTLE THEATRE, 922 Queen Street East  at 7:30 PM on December 14th and 15th with other dates across Canada.  for further information or call (416) 845 -9411 to reserve tickets at the Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Friday, November 27, 2015


If you hurry up and book a ticket, you might get a chance to see one of the very best shows staged in the first half of the 15-16 Toronto theatre season.

BOMBAY BLACK is a love story set in a Mumbai slum, where desperate parents sell their children as private dancers to wealthy jaded clients.  "Darkness is a blank slate.  Draw on it what you will." BOMBAY BLACK tells a dark story, but both the cast and the production suffuse it with light.

Anosh Irani is both a novelist and a playwright.  The language of the play is dense and lyrical, the story layered and complex. It's a truly beautiful script, a powerful story told in heightened language.

Padma (Anusree Roy) is a single parent, who has fled an abusive marriage in rural India, and come to Bombay.  The marriage has left Padma a seething mass of rage and damage.

Padma sells her talented, unhappy daughter, Apsara as a private dancer.  The money the girl earns provides their livelihood. The bells around Apsara's ankles are both one of her enticements and the shackles of her imprisonment.

As played by Kawa Ada, Apsara is desire personified: a person everyone wants and no one can touch.  The parameters of the illuminated round stage where Apsara undulates nightly are both a protection (Padma applies an iron bar to the hands or head of anyone who dare touch her) and her prison. Apsara lives for the pleasure of others: wanted by all, and loved by none, not even her mother. Ada gives a luminous performance, allowing us to experience the damaged, untrusting child inside the seductive beauty. He also choreographed the show and the dancing greatly enhances the production.

One day, a blind man, Kamal (a wonderful Howard J. Davis) comes for a private dance.  He also comes to give Padma a message from her husband.  Her father wants to see Apsara one last time before he dies.  Kamal also claims that Apsara was his child bride, married to him when he was 10, and she was 3.  The first time he touched her, he was rendered blind.  He wants what was promised to him: love, the love that the celestial nymph gives to the lotus in the Indian myth.

Hinton initially chose an all male cast.  His decision to have two men play the lovers in the story works wonderfully.

I'm also very glad Hinton ended up with Anusree Roy. She lionizes the role of Padma, embracing her wit, while unflinchingly showing every venal cruel aspect of her character.  She truly earns our sympathy, as we see the suffering and neglect that made her  into the woman she has become. Roy's performance is a master-class in acting.

With the skillful deployment of a few well-used resources, Hinton creates theatre magic.

Lighting designer Jennifer Lennon does a spectacular job: creating clear spaces by defining and controlling the size of beams, and underlining the shifts in mood and tone in the story with shifts in colour.

BOMBAY BLACK is a must-see: gorgeous and compelling story telling from a creative team of impressive talent.

BOMBAY BLACK continues at the Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street, until December 6th, with performances from Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 PM and pay what you can matinees on Sunday at 2:00 PM. or call: (416) 504 9971 

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Last week, I spoke with director Peter Pasyk, as he prepared to open LATE COMPANY, Jordan Tannahill's play about teenagers, parents, social media, and high-school bullying, 21st century style.

This Toronto remount is part of the Theatre Centre's NOVEMBER TICKET, a showcase of three recent scripts on provocative topics, by a trio of young, award-winning writers.

Pasyk directed LATE COMPANY's inaugural SUMMERWORKS production. "As a director, I have been quite focussed on developing new work.  This play is a project of passion for me. We did the Summerworks show, as a workshop production, then did a script workshop post-festival, to fine-tune it."

Clearly, the process has paid off.  LATE COMPANY has already had productions in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and now, at THE THEATRE CENTRE.

I ask Pasyk what drew him to directing in the first place. "I trained at Ryerson as an actor.  I was always very aware of the director and the ways they did, or didn't invite people's best selves to the table. I found myself doing a lot of silent brooding."  We both laugh. "I realized I could stay in a job that increasingly felt like a trap for me, and become bitter, or go change what I was doing. Directing felt like a calling for me, a vocation."

The rest of the November Ticket has been about about wars and genocide: big, global themes. LATE COMPANY is a family drama situated in that most domestic of enclaves, the dining room.  Much of the action of the play takes place at a dinner party, around the table.  Is it a case of  of "the personal is the political?" "Yes, absolutely," Pasyk responds."All the plays have been about accountability.  Who do we hold accountable for certain actions?  Family is at the root of human development.  Your family sets the course for how you understand the world."

So is this about blame? "There is never just one guilty party. The families in the play are trying to circumvent the usual system of blame, and attempt to apply a kind of restorative justice.  There are opposing views on who the good guys and the bad guys are: and there's the process of grief.  Jordan's play speaks to these topics across generations."

Certainly, the teenagers in the play are having a very different experience of high-school than their parents did.  Social media has radically transformed communication.

"There was no performing arts high school for me to attend where I lived. I participated in a youth theatre training program at the Tarragon as a teenager. I was drawn to the work of Tom Walmsley, and when I started directing as an adult, I did a very successful revival of THE JONES BOY. As a result, I  was fortunate to be invited by Richard Rose to be mentored as a director at the Tarragon Theatre.  While I was there, I worked with  Weyni Mengesha.  Now she and I both have productions as part of the NOVEMBER TICKET. It feels like I've come full circle - from starting in the theate as a teen-ager to now."

I saw Pasyk's production of LATE COMPANY last week, and found it both compelling, and very affecting. The last show on the NOVEMBER TICKET is well worth a visit.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Last week, I saw two shows that dealt with race issues and death: nice, light, theatrical fare to counter the depressing daily news of unrelenting global atrocity and violence.


The Obie-winning script by Jackie Sibblies Drury was written as a graduate thesis.  It both sounds and feels like one, and that's not always a good thing.

Ravi Jain's direction of the garrulous, over-wrought text is brilliant: inventive and intelligent.  He gets skillful and sophisticated performances from his talented cast.

Nothing any of them say, or do can rescue the play itself from its overwhelmingly starchy aroma of earnest, self-important, academic over-think. It's a terrific production of an incredibly frustrating script.

The conceit of the piece, an admittedly funny one, is that a collective theatre company has decided to create a devised theatre piece about the subject matter described in the title. It's a play within a play or an inter-text, as the post-modernists would say.

The theatre company consists of three black members, two men and a woman.  The black woman (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) is directing the show and feels like the writer's alter-ego.  There are also three white actors, again, two men and a woman.

The premise of creating a piece of devised theatre is used to explore, discuss, and debate a lot of ideas about race, privilege, voice, the treatment of historical subjects in a contemporary context, group dynamics, and genocide.

The Germans, we learn, were occupiers in Namibia from 1884 to 1915, apparently committing genocide on the Herero people.  It was sort of a warm-up genocide before the one, 50 years later, in Europe. The play makes an effective case that, as the Heroro were not documented, one by one, as they were worked, starved, or executed into early graves, it was as if they simply never existed.

The play draws parallels between these events in 19th century occupied Namibia, and 19th century American society.  In case the audience is too dense to get the author's point, she has the white "Germans" speak to the black "Heroro" employing the dialects of the deep American South. Sigh.

What the play does do very powerfully is demonstrate how people get murdered, while other people stand around, watch, and do nothing.  I've seldom seen the convention of the 4th wall challenged to such disturbing effect.

A lot is demanded of the cast: Brent Donahue, Marcel Stewart, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, Michael Ayres, Darcy Gehart and Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah.  As a group, they very convincingly have us believe they are making things up as they go along. The surreal scenes of the "play" are done as well as the light comedy off the top, and that's no mean feat.

As the friend who came with me said to me after the show, "I wish artists could take ideas seriously, without taking themselves so seriously." Indeed.

Down the street at the Factory, in its intimate backspace, Nina Aquino directs a sharp, stylized production of BANANA BOYS, a play about five young Asian Canadian men coming of age: their challenges, their passions, their losses, their victories, and their friendships.

The play, by Leon Aureus is based on the novel of the same title by Terry Woo. The script lacks a straight-ahead narrative structure, but that doesn't manage to deprive the play of power or charm.

The backspace has been stripped bare, with a raised steel platform in the centre of a pit stage, with the raked house at one end. Aquino puts the space to excellent use, particularly the various platform levels and the window arches in the back wall.  Cel phones are props/light sources in a lot of shows these days, but seldom used as effectively, or artistically as they are here.

The cast is uniformly polished and energetic. Slacker/DJ Luke (Philip Nozuka), nice guy/obsessional Sheldon (Darrel Gamotin), med student/wanna-be novelist Matthew (Mike Chao, also the narrative glue of the piece) rage-fuelled alcoholic Dave (Oliver Koomsatira) and power-broker Rick (Simu Liu)  a Bay-street super-star on the outside, and a hot mess on the inside, are all well-drawn by the performers, with both empathy and humour. The actors know these men intimately, and they let the audience know them intimately, too.

The play is very specifically rooted in a community, but universal in the story it tells about how we define success or failure for men in contemporary society, and in its exploration of male friendships. Banana Boys is a fine revival of a still-worthy play.

We Are Proud to Present...continues until November 29th, as part of THE NOVEMBER TICKET at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West for times, tickets and information.

BANANA BOYS  continues at THE FACTORY THEATRE , 125 Bathurst Street until November 22nd. for tickets, times and information.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


The Coal Mine opened its second season this week with a captivating and assured production of  British playwright, Jez Butterworth's Broadway and West End hit, THE RIVER.

It's an enigmatic text, and director Ted Dykstra and his talented cast make a meal (literally and figuratively) of both its lyricism and constant shifts in mood.

The company has decided to forgo British accents, and set the play in Canada. I was a bit taken aback at first, but it proves a workable choice.

The  Man (David Ferry), middle aged, still attractive, likes to fish; no, he's passionate about fishing. It's in his blood, he learned from his uncle. He goes regularly to his uncle's former cottage, a rustic place in the woods, beside a river noted for its supply of  highly desirable and elusive sea trout.

The man likes to have company on these excursions:  female company.

Near the beginning of the play, the man's current female house guest (Jane Spidell) tries to persuade him to come with her to watch the sunset over the river.  The man is focused on preparing his fishing kit:  the best fishing takes place after dark, on a moonless night. He wearily declines, describing, in exquisitely poetic terms, the Turner sky he's missing.

The man is no philistine: he draws, he reads poetry, he's a skilled cook, he likes Cole Porter. There's whiskey in the cupboard, but wine for the dinner table. It's easy to see why women find him, and the chance to spend a weekend with him, well, alluring.

A lure is a kind of mechanical bait, designed to attract and capture a specific kind of fish.

David Ferry is in top form, playing the audience like a master angler: notching up and releasing tension, as he reels us into the world of a beguiling and slippery character.

As the Woman, Jane Spidell  is clearly drawn in by his charms, almost in spite of herself. In her role as a single, middle-aged woman early on in a courtship, Spidell is a marvel of defenses and vulnerability, letting the audience see the chinks in her armour appear, then vanish, as she lets down and raises her guard.When she speaks about her childhood, she makes palpable the pain of the damaged, neglected girl who became this brittle woman.

At one point, the woman disappears through a door, and the Other Woman (a sylvan and coquettish Dani Kind) appears: younger, more relaxed, flirtatious, confident. Is she past or present?A muse or a delusion?  Who is playing who?

The play takes place indoors: a domestic enclave, but one with strong auditory and visual suggestions of the natural world beyond the doors; the sound of a rushing river, light flickering through the branches of the woodland trees.

Water is a powerful element in the play, both reflecting beauty and concealing danger, outdoors and within. A knife floats in a dirty dish tub, a metal basin becomes a reflecting pool. This is what middle aged love affairs really feel like: sexually charged, potentially dangerous; fraught, delicate and uncertain.

The set and lighting by Steve Lucas and sound by Creighton Doane are note-perfect. Ming Wong's costumes are nuanced, underscoring the differences in characters and the shifts in mood.

The intimate space places the audience right in the middle of the courtships. There were moments of such arresting intimacy, that I found myself holding my breath.

Butterworth is less interested in answering questions than he is in exploring them. Dykstra and his talented cast have the courage to allow that to happen.

 The RIVER hooked me and didn't let me go.  Days later, I found myself  thinking about the turning points in the relationships onstage and in my own, long ago.

Coalmine Theatre has relocated into temporary digs east of their former home, beside the Only Cafe, in a converted storefront. The company receives no government funding and the space they've created is tight, but remarkably effective, a cosy and functional conversion of a former store into a performance venue.

For one thing, they've built risers, meaning that the sight lines are pretty good.  This, as many theatre-going die-hards can tell you, is not the case with many of the smaller, independent venues in town.

Slip down and see THE RIVER.  It's a trip you won't soon forget.

The RIVER continues until November 22 at the Coalmine Theatre's temporary location: 982 Danforth, just steps west of Donlands subway station.  Performances take place from Tuesday until Sunday, at 7:30 pm nightly for further information.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Governor General's Award winner, Nicholas Billon's latest play, BUTCHER received its Toronto debut on Wednesday night at The Theatre Centre. It's an excellent production of an intelligent and unsettling script, but it is not for the faint of heart.

The play opens in a police station in Toronto, on Christmas Eve. An elderly man (a commanding John Koensgen) in an old military uniform and a Santa hat, with a butcher's hook strung around his neck, has been deposited on the steps of the station. On the end of the meat hook, a lawyer's business card has been spiked, with a note on the other side, "ARREST ME". The old man is from some unknown East European country, and he doesn't seem to speak any English.

The police officer (a riveting Tony Nappo) has summoned the lawyer (a beautifully nuanced Andrew Musselman) named on the card to the station, to ascertain how it is the old man happened to have his business card on him in the first place.  The lawyer, a ex-pat Brit named Hamilton Barnes, claims to have no knowledge of the old man.  The police officer has determined what language the old man speaks, and has called in a translator (Michelle Monteith, making the best of a thankless part). She arrives, and things get - intense.

No one is who they initially claim to be.

Billon has written an old fashioned revenge tragedy, placing it in a contemporary setting, where a war criminal is dragged out of hiding  and held to account for his sins of the past by one of his former victims.

In this kind of play, vengeance is seen, by the perpetrator of the act of taking vengeance, as a passion for justice. The vengeance seeker is not interested in balancing the scales of justice, but rather in blindly and bloodily wielding Justice's exacting sword. This sentiment is articulated very clearly in the play, and put horrifyingly into action through the capable direction of Weyni Mengesha, and fight staging of Simon Fon.

Billon does have a character argue the other side: that the courts and the law are the way to punish the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, but that perspective don't get much floor time in this excursion.

Billon is a brilliant writer.  The play is inventive, well-structured, articulate, and churns out both ideas and action.  The questions he poses about crime and justice, as well as his theatrical treatment of the subject of revenge, allude to dramas on the subject by the Romans, (Seneca) and the Greeks (Euripides).

The writing, acting and direction, are all admirably strong. It's rare to see such a great exploration of this difficult subject.

Contemporary audiences, however, are subjected to torture-porn/vigilante justice in the guise of police procedurals, and Dexter episodes seven days a week. I suspect I am not the only spectator with vengeance fatigue.

Billon clearly demonstrates that vengeance is pointless. This is both the play's moral heart and its greatest structural weakness.  The character who is the engine of the action of the play is singular in pursuit of a horrific objective.  The actor executing this role is given one note to play by the writer. The performer does a fine job, but one note is one note.

Yes evil is both banal and appalling. Watching 90 minutes of unrelenting horror visited on victims is not cathartic, in this play, just exhausting and draining. I left the theatre feeling sullied, as if, by the act of viewing such atrocity, I was somehow complicit in its enactment.

The Elizabethan statesman, Francis Bacon said, "In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy, but in passing it over, he is superior, for it is a prince's part to pardon."  Mercifully, the writer affords us a glimpse of that prince at the end, as well as a shimmering vision of innocence and hope. Would that the voice of reason, and the vision of hope had been given more voice in this disturbing production.

BUTCHER continues at THE THEATRE CENTRE until November 15th, as part of The November Ticket Theatre Festival at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West.  For dates, times and ticket prices go to or call (416) 538 0988. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Last Saturday night, a friend and I attended a great production of Linda Griffiths' hilarious and provocative, THE AGE OF AROUSAL at the Factory Theatre. It is undoubtedly the strongest production to have graced the Factory main stage in a number of years.

In the aftermath of the First World War, England has 400,000 more women than men. That was a whole lot of of impecunious spinsters and widows.  Women had won the right to vote, and were joining the workforce in large numbers, mostly in some form of domestic service, or retail.  Unless you'd been left an inheritance, as a single woman you were facing a life of genteel - and sometimes not so genteel - poverty.

Enter Mary Barfoot (Julie Stewart): suffragette, lesbian, intellectual, heiress, and educator. Barfoot, a formidable woman of great intellectual and sexual power hovers on the cusp of losing her beauty.  Barfoot knows most women don't inherit and many won't  - or don't want to marry a pay cheque. She is determined to improve women's lot by securing them financial independence through vocational training.

Barfoot and her much younger lover/business partner Rhonda Nunn (Marie Beath Badian) run a secretarial college for women.  Armed with a trio of terrifying looking Remington typewriters, the couple undertakes the emancipation of a hapless trio of sisters:  the Maddens.

Griffiths' play was loosely based on an 1893 novel called THE ODD WOMEN and the Maddens are decidedly an odd lot.  Alice (Juno Rinaldi) is a high-strung neurotic, Virginia (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), a cross-dressing dipsomaniac and Monica (Leah Doz), a sexually voracious shop girl, who is way too pretty for her own good. When Barfoot's wealthy, handsome, nice guy male doctor/dilettante cousin, Everard (Sam Kalilieh) returns from abroad, putting a fox in this hen house, things get very complicated indeed.

Griffiths' brilliant script may be set 100 years ago, but it still feels very fresh and current in its exploration of feminism, sexuality, gender politics, aging, money, power, and loneliness.

The cast uniformly executes wonderful physical and vocal character work.  This is a very solid ensemble.  Brewin directs a smart, brisk-paced production that lets Griffiths' intellectually and emotionally complex, and delightfully mad script really shine.

The actors are required to articulate both their outside and inside voices, which leads to many moments of hilarity, and a few of gut-wrenching and painful truth.

Two things about the production made me feel sad.  One, was sitting and watching the wonderful play unfold and  again, mourning the loss of Linda Griffiths last year. She was a unique voice in Canadian theatre:  intellectually brilliant, and fearlessly intense. She will never write another play again.  What a tragic loss!

The other thing that saddened me was the embarrassing lack of production values on stage: set, lighting, and costumes. No designers were credited, although a wardrobe coordinator was hired.  My heart goes out to her. The show looks like someone went to Goodwill, Ardene's, and the Kind Exchange with about a hundred bucks.

I don't expect to see stretch polyester on an actress in a period play on the stage of a major theatre. Leggings? Tank tops? Seriously?  Everard, a wealthy, well-traveled womanizer is in a suit that doesn't fit.

With the exception of the typewriters, the visual elements of the production were below the standard of an underfunded community theatre. A performance this good deserves an equally fine standard of production design.  This isn't naked theatre: it's just a pound-foolish decision not to employ a design team.

THE AGE OF AROUSAL continues at the Factory Theatre until November 8th from Tuesday -Saturday at 8:00 with pay-what-you-can matinee performances at 2:00 pm on Sunday afternoons. Call (416) 504 9971 or go to

Friday, October 16, 2015


It's a cool, overcast autumn day, when I meet Cliff Cardinal in the lobby of the Daniel Spectrum Theatre, home of Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA).

We head out the door of the theatre and stroll through Cabbagetown to the Jet Fuel for a coffee. We look at the Victorian mansions, and the remaining town homes from the original Regent Park development in the '70s.  I say they remind me of London tenements. " I like those houses." says Cardinal. "They're where the stories are."

Cardinal is back living in Toronto after a three year stint training at The National Theatre School of Canada as a playwright.  It's the most prestigious theatre school in the country, and the most difficult to get into.  The playwriting program takes two students a year. Last spring, after completing the three year program, he graduated.

As we enter the cafe, he takes a picture of the exterior, and texts it to a friend who is meeting him after we're done.  She's here from Montreal, and he wants to be sure she can find it. This guy is on it.

When I first met Cardinal, almost four years ago, HUFF was in development.  He was being pushed to make it a multi-actor show.  He wanted to write and perform a multiple character monologue.  Even in its earliest iteration, the play was a wild ride: heart-breaking, terrifying and blackly hilarious.

Cardinal sagely ignored the dramaturgical advice, and wrote a monologue, which he performs alone.  It was a good call. Cardinal has performed HUFF over 70 times and is opening NEPA's 15/16 season with the show.  As usual, HUFF has opened in Toronto to praise from both audiences and critics for the script and the performance.

"Huff is about risk-taking. Wind (the protagonist) lives for dangerous joys." A pause. "I write about outsiders:  the freaks, the people who defy social convention, the ones who don't fit in.  They are the ones who will do anything to be accepted and loved.  That's what gets them in trouble."

What did Cardinal learn in Montreal?  "To meet the work."  Cardinal's been working hard. "Every morning, I get up and write between 6:00 and 9:00 am."

In addition to writing, performing, and touring HUFF, his play STITCH closed NEPA's last season.  The play he wrote during his sophomore year at NTS, ROMANCESHIP is "coming to a theatre near you next season."  He grins.  What's it about? "Oh a couple in a dysfunctional relationship. I also wrote a vicious social satire in year three. It's a frontal attack on Canadian values. It needs a big cast.  We did it as a graduating project.  I'd love to do it here in a big theatre."

Another grin.  I ask him about his earlier education. "My mom (actress Tantoo Cardinal) and my family moved around a lot.  I've lived in Pine Ridge, L.A., Vermont.  I've been in Toronto off and on since I was 15.  I attended 7 different high schools.  I dropped out.  My mom said, "OK, you're going to work as an apprentice with Video Cabaret. Billy (Merasty) will keep an eye on you." Michael Hollingwoth (the artistic director) said, "Sit at the back and watch and if someone asks you do something, do it."  Another grin. Michael eventually gave me my first professional acting job.  Watching the rehearsals of NEW FRANCE taught me a lot - about, history, about theatre, about acting, about how plays get made and developed."

This year, Cardinal is is the writer-in-residence at Video Cabaret. "In rez-indence?" I pun?

Cardinal has had an excellent education.  The outsider is inside the theatre now, sharing the dangerous joys of his work with admiring audiences.

This winter, HUFF goes on tour to Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Edmonton, Calgary, Peterborough and Quebec City.

I saw the show last night. The play, the performance and the production are all excellent. Cardinal is more than ready to bring his edgy, challenging work to audiences in Toronto and across Canada.

HUFF continues until October 25th at the AKI STUDIO THEATRE , 585 Dundas Street East as part of NATIVE EARTH PERFORMING ARTS 15/16 season. Tuesday- Saturday 8:00 PM. SUNDAY at 2:00 pm. .Tickets are $15-$30 and may be obtained online at or  by calling 416 531 1402.