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Summerworks Festival 2009: Theatre

August 12th, 2009 Steve No comments

Theatre, Comedy, Music, Dance, and more; it’s all happening at the Summerworks Indie Theatre and Arts Festival, running August 6th-16th along Queen St. West, at more than a half dozen venues. My apologies to anyone who has a show that’s NOT Summerworks-associated, but this week’s postings are 100% festival focused ( August 14th’s edition of the update will revert back to the usual format).

This first of three special Summerworks posts starts off focusing on the original and largest element of the festival… Theatre.

Erin Shields (Writer of last year's Summerworks hit "If We Were Birds" and performer in "Fewer Emergencies" at last year's Summerworks) and Maev Beaty (Dora-nominated for last year's "Dance of the Red Skirts") follow up their last paired collaborative effort ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1930s Paris.

Erin Shields and Maev Beaty follow up their last paired collaborative work ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1920s Paris (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

I’ve seen exactly 1/3 of the 42 plays in the “Local” and “National” categories as of this post, and there have been some real standouts. There’s also a number of shows that I’ve already seen in one form or another prior to this festival, that I can confidently recommend.

If you’re looking for drama, both of the shows Groundwater Productions is producing, “The Epic of Gilgamaesh (Up Until the Part When Enkidu Dies)” and “Montparnasse“, are sure bets to see fascinating and theatrically accomplished work. “Montparnasse” in particular has garnered excellent word of mouth based on their 1st act preview at the Rhubarb Festival earlier this year, and I’m happy to report that the full version of the show has been brilliantly realized. Writers/actors Erin Shields and Maev Beaty shed all,  playing nude models – one an aspiring artist, the other a hedonistic dilettante – and their artist patrons and bohemian acquaintances in 1920s Paris.

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his seamless integration with the rest of the ensemble in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh".

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is a strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his moving ensemble work in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

Also showing a fair bit of skin in their production is Ecce Homo, who had a huge hit on their hands last year with their production of “The Pastor Phelps Project“. This year’s offering is “The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa (or, Agnes Bojaxhiu, Superstar)“, the third and final in their trilogy of collective creations based on quotes concerning controversial figures of the 20th century. While almost every spoken word in the show is a quote, the assemblage of the show is original, and whereas the nudity in “Montparnasse” is integral to the plot, in “Mother Teresa”, it’s just one of many elements (music, dance. video) that enhance the spectacle of the production.

Other multi-media productions worth noting include Aluna Theatre’s “Nohayquiensepa“, and Daniel Barrow’s “Everytime I See Your Picture, I Cry“. “Nohay”, a less titillating, but far more technologically adept show than “Mother Teresa”, is a “workshop production” that uses a physically agile ensemble and an astounding array of projections, video, and audio recordings to give a vague and affecting eulogy to victims of violence, “inspired by events in a Columbian river town on the fringe of great violence”.

Barrow’s show builds on his previous work creating hand illustrated overhead projection shows – he describes his work as “manual animation” – with several key new developments; it becomes clear early on in the show that this is not autobiographical, but is a weird and surreal narrative, and Barrow for the first time is “invisible” to his audience. Previous shows have had him clearly visible manipulating his projector, but in this show, he’s hidden away on the balcony of Theatre Passe Muraille, and the audience focuses solely on his moving images. I had some issues with the narrative (the show could really use a program), but there’s no denying this is a wholly original theatrical experience.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and, also, gorgeous) ensemble cast.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and also gorgeous) ensemble cast.

The final two shows I’m strongly recommending (that I’ve seen – I expect I’ll have some new shows to highlight come this weekend’s update) are both resolutely comedies, though their titles and topic material might suggest otherwise.

The National Theatre of the World, who I wrote about at length when they launched their series “Impromptu Splendor“, have finally brought their improv act to a theatre festival, and it’s truly gratifying to see theatre audiences realizing what this company does is brilliantly theatrical, though their techniques are rooted in comedy. The company members – Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pederson, and Matt Baram – research a playwright’s work to prepare for a show; on “opening night”, they ask the audience for a few random suggestions, then spontaneously create a one act play “inspired” by the featured playwright. I’ve seen them perform shows you’d swear were written by David Mamet or Judith Thompson, and it’s almost impossible to believe the three are creating as they go – but it’s 100% written before your eyes, and must be seen to be believed.

Last but certainly not least, my favourite show to date at the festival, “Melancholy Play“, is anything but. Ingrid Rae Doucet stars as a blonde depressive who finds that her maudlin demeanor causes people of both sexes and all walks of life to fall head over heels for her – until she overcomes her depression and realizes her new-found cheerfulness has the opposite effect. This absurd and delightful farce boasts a surfeit of comedic talent, and director Rosa Laborde, herself a Dora and Governor General Award nominated playwright, makes an assured directorial debut. While the script itself is by American playwright Sarah Ruhl, it’s an outstanding example of a independent Canadian company (Project Undertow) demonstrating great prowess in all aspects of theatrical production; the performances, live music, sets, and costumes are all note perfect.

Next up: a post about the stellar Summerworks Music Series (with lots of choice new MP3s and videos), followed by a final Summerworks post about the interactive treasures of the Summerwalks, and the Performance Gallery at the Gladstone Hotel.

Categories: Comedy, Dance, Film, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Fringe Festival 2009 Reviews

July 10th, 2009 Steve 2 comments
Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated picks for this year's Toronto Fringe Festival so far.

Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated shows at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival.

(It became clear to me that it would be unfair to post more Fringe reviews so late after the festival ended, by late July.

I made a tactical error in my coverage of the Fringe this year; I spent the first half of the festival trying to finish the detailed preview posts I had planned, and I didn’t begin writing reviews until close to the end of the festival, when almost a week had passed since I’d started seeing them. I was playing catch-up on a huge backlog of work, and it wouldn’t have been fair to the shows to review them after so much time had lapsed.

Next year, I’ll ensure that any non-review coverage is finished by the time I start seeing shows; in the meantime, if anyone really wants to hear my impression of a particular show that wasn’t reviewed, email me directly at steve@gracingthestage.ca, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. – Steve)

I haven’t posted to the website in the past few days, and it’s because I’ve been paralyzed by which post I should be focusing on in the few free hours I have when I’m not Fringing.  Should I focus on finishing the ridiculously overdue fourth and final “preview” of Fringe shows? The previous three took enormous amounts of work to write, because I found and hot-linked each show’s FB listing AND website (where possible), and also did enough research for each show (and there were 12 per post!) to zero in on its most salient attributes.

Should I focus on writing up the weekly update, and try and cram as much Fringe into it as possible? It’s slowly coming together, but those are pretty time intensive too. Besides, the only shows that aren’t Fringe related that are listed before Monday are the FREE outdoor concerts this weekend at the Harbourfront Centre’s Beats, Breaks, and Culture Festival:  Holy Fuck (9:30pm), Winter Gloves (8pm), and DD/MM/YYYY (11pm) on Friday, and Broken Social Scene (8pm) and Parallels (7:30pm) on Saturday. So I don’t feel too badly putting that off until Fringe wraps up Sunday evening.

Ultimately, the question people have asked the most is when the capsule reviews of the shows I’ve seen (24 and counting, 41 by the end of my schedule) will start going up. And truthfully, they’re the least labour intensive. Besides, many of the shows that were to be profiled in my final preview post (“Red Bastard“, “Bingo: The Show“, KidsFringe shows like “Rock Time 2009“, etc.), I’ve already seen, and will be reviewing (most quite positively).

So here’s what’s going to happen: I’ll update this post frequently over the next (and final) few days of Fringe with a handful of short reviews at a time. Keep checking back to see the new ones; I’ll be updating this post as often and as quickly as I can between Fringe shows, and late at night.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands' the shows' been selected for the Best of Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands; the show's been selected for the Best of the Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

(For Fringe reviews, click on the “more”).

Read more…

Categories: Comedy, Dance, Film, GTS Update, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

The Wright Stuff: "Shaolin Soccer"

March 1st, 2009 Steve No comments

After the success of their Kevin Smith curation, the Bloor Cinema has stepped it up a notch; they’ve enlisted British filmmaker Edgar Wright to program, introduce, and host their weekend slate until mid April.

Wright, who’s in town shooting the film adaptation of the “Scott Pilgrim” comic series (about a Toronto slacker and indie rocker), is doing a 6 week weekend residency at the cinema, showing both his own films, like “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead“, and a selection of cult classics; kung fu flicks, horror films, even Canuck classics like Don McKellar’sLast Night“.

Tonight’s early film is “Shaolin Soccer“, the movie that made Stephen Chow an international star. Chow was recently being touted as the man behind the camera for the adaptation of “The Green Hornet“, and in front of it as Kato to Seth Rogan’s titular crime fighter. Although Chow has since passed on the director’s helm (the current leading contender is said to be Michel Gondry), it’s still possible he’ll be filling the role made famous by Bruce Lee, and given his gift for combining physical comedy, martial arts, and CG wizardry, many film geeks still have their fingers crossed very tightly that he’ll be involved in the film.

shaolin soccer

Advance tickets for all of the Wright screenings are available via the Bloor Cinema’s website in conjunction with T.O. TIx, and if last night’s “Shaun of the Dead” / “Hot Fuzz” is any indication, they will be packed and very entertaining affairs; reports from last night say Wright was happy to talk film with his appreciative audience until almost 1am. He’s promised on his website to be in attendance at all of the screenings to introduce the films and take questions, his shooting schedule permitting.

(Edgar Wright intorduces “Shaolin Soccer” at 7pm, and ‘Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky” at 9:30pm; tickets are available in advance for $14 at T.O. Tix (includes both films), or at the door for regular Bloor prices ($8 for a single ticket, $14 for a double bill), though advance tickets are reccommended).

Gravity Wave / Boys Who Say No / Great Bloomers

February 26th, 2009 Steve No comments

There’s been quite a bit of press for The Drake Hotel’s 5 year anniversary over the past few weeks; that is, the anniversary of its make-over and relaunch by entrepreneur Jeff Stober. In the past five years, the Drake has become many things to many people, and the various factions that have attempted to make the Drake their own have often bumped against each other.

Members of the dance rock outfit OPOPO play the Drake Hotel Underground during the year end "What's in the Box?" series, Dec. 28th '08; OPOPO have shared a bill with Gravity Wave at the Steamwhistle Unsigned Series, and with Great Bloomers as part of promoter Lauren Schreiber's No Shame music series.

Members of the dance rock outfit OPOPO play the Drake Hotel Underground during the year end "What's in the Box?" series, Dec. 28th, '08. OPOPO have shared a bill with Gravity Wave at the Steamwhistle Unsigned Series, and, like Great Bloomers, have played multiple times on promoter Lauren Schreiber's No Shame music series.

It’s been THE destination spot for out of towners and partiers flocking downtown from the Golden Horseshoe almost since the first Toronto International Film Festival parties were held there, and the crowd that frequents the upstairs bars and lounges doesn’t always see eye to eye with the local taste makers and artists of Parkdale and Queen St. W, who gravitate down to the basement venue; frankly, few of the 905 crowd even seem to realize or care that there’s a sub-culture that sees the Drake as anything other than an adult playground and meet and greet spot.

To its credit, the Drake has from the start attempted to forge connections with the various arts scenes, recognizing that if (or when) the fickle party crowd moves on to another hot spot, it’ll be the avant garde programming, and the up and coming future stars it attracts, that will bring in new clientele; the breaking-out bands, filmmakers and visual artists on the rise, comedians and literary movements, etc.

Of course, some of these have fared better in their association with the Drake then others; of late, it seems that the Drake has focused its energies on promoting cutting edge electronic and hip-hop acts in the Underground, like Skratch Bastid, who’s developed a loyal following for a monthly residency that’s stretched out over two years. But you can still see some great indie rock down there on occasion, weekly at the PWYC Elvis Monday series, for instance, or, say, with tonight’s 9pm onwards triple bill of Gravity Wave (a late replacement for Sports the Band), Boys who Say No, and Great Bloomers, which is being put on FREE of charge by the friendly folks at the Drake.

(Info about tonight’s three acts, including some choice mp3s, a video, and info on how to be in Gravity Wave’s NEXT video, after the fold.) Read more…

"Coraline" / "Wendy and Lucy"

February 11th, 2009 Steve 2 comments

The past few weeks have been stagnant at local first run cinemas, as film fans get caught up with the Oscar nominees. The majority of films released have been unceremoniously dumped by their parent companies and left to fend for themselves. Some of this dreck, such as “Mall Cop”, with nothing but dreck to compete with, has done well at the box office. But this past Friday, we finally saw some choice films released in Toronto; a movie that will appeal to everyone, (and will hopefully do big business), and a movie that is finally getting its Toronto premiere, and by many accounts, really should have been among those Oscar nominees.

Coraline“, an adaptation of the novella by Neil Gaiman, is the first feature in 9 years from Henry Selick, best known for his stop-motion animated films “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach”. Now, I know there are people who’ll read this and say “‘Nightmare’ was a Tim Burton flick!”, but they’d only be partially correct; while Burton co-wrote and produced the holiday classic, Selick was the director and animator.

“Coraline” is showing at cinemas all over town, but in my opinion, there’s only two theatres you should be seeing it at: The Silvercity Cinemas at Yonge & Eglinton, or The Queensway Cinemas. Why those two? Well, they’re the only cinemas advertising “Coraline” in 3D, and, according to Jennie Punter of the Globe and Mail, it’s “quite possibly the best 3-D movie ever made.” Why WOULDN’T you want to see this in 3D, given the choice?

(A trailer and brief profile of the second movie in this post’s title lies beneath the “e-fold”. Read more…

Rhubarb

February 7th, 2009 Steve No comments
Maev Beaty & Erin Shields

Maev Beaty & Erin Shields; the two perform in all different states of deshabille in "Montparnasse", Week 1 at Rhubarb

Last month’s Next Stage Festival was pointed at by many folks as a sterling example that Toronto’s arts patrons don’t hibernate over the winter; the festival posted a 15% gain over last year’s attendance. But, although Next Stage is the hot new kid on the block, there’s plenty of other festivals of new works to take in over the winter months, and the still frisky and relevant Rhubarb, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is one of the best.

Rhubarb started out, quite naturally, as an extension of the work being done by queer theatre artists through the mandate of Canada’s first gay and lesbian theatre company, Buddies in Bad Times. Over the years, both Buddies and Rhubarb’s mandate has grown to include alternative and innovative theatre from artists of all sorts of orientations; in fact, one of the most promising shows I’ve seen so far, Groundwater Production’sMontparnasse“, is the work of three women married to men (writer/director Andrea Donaldson, and writers/ performers Erin Shields & Maev Beaty). Above all, Rhubarb requires its submitted works, and its audience, to come to the theatre with an open mind, and a willingness to take risks.

Taylor Mac in concert @ the Howl Festival in NYC's East Village.

Taylor Mac in concert @ the Howl Festival in NYC's East Village.

Of course, though, Buddies being what it is, there’s a fierce streak of Pride throughout the program, and Rhubarb has landed a real heavyweight for its first week, booking performance artist and drag queen Taylor Mac for four late night slots in Week 1. Mac, who’s performed at hundreds of festivals round the world, is a revelation; he’s like some marvelous hybrid of Spalding Grey, RuPaul, and Sean Cullen (I mention said homegrown comic due to this week’s update - but getting back on track…). Mac wraps the audience around his little finger, and gets under your skin with his charming and occasionally very sobering songs, his sparkling wit, and his fascinating stories. A consummate entertainer, he had the crowd on their feet by the end of his set, and he’d accomplished this with just a ukelele, a stretched sheet, and a bag full of “finery”. Yes, I even learned something; a drag queen’s clothes are not her “costumes”, they’re her finery.

Taylor Mac wraps up this weekend, but Rhubarb continues for another two weeks, with all new performance pieces, workshopped plays, and spontaneous happenings each week in the Chamber and Cabaret from 7pm onwards, Wednesday to Saturday, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Taylor Mac (9:45pm), “”Montparnasse” (9:10pm), and the rest of the Week 1 Rhubarb festival acts are  at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from Wed. Feb. 4th – Sat. Feb. 8th, 7pm onwards; Week 2 begins Wed. Feb. 11th.

"Let the Right One In"

January 26th, 2009 Steve No comments

Every year, come Oscar time, The Academy award nominations, even more so then the actual awards, are picked apart by film fans the world over. There’s always some choices that critics point to as indications that the Academy’s voting base is hopelessly out of touch; this year, the greatest buzz is around the exclusion of “The Dark Knight” and director Christopher Nolan from the prestige writing and directing awards, in favour of, say, a film that just barely earned the minimum 60% of positive ratings to be ranked “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. While there was a posthumous nod for Heath Ledger in the best supporting actor category, the rest of “The Dark Knight’s” nominations were in technical categories like sound, editing, cinematography, and makeup and art direction.

But the larger story of Oscar neglect and head scratching choices this year is undoubtedly in the Foreign Film category. Run away critical successes and multiple award winners like “Persepolis” and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” were eliminated from the competition even before the final five nominees were announced. Further complicating matters is that “foreign” films must be selected by their host country for competition; in the case of my favourite film of 2008, it was passed over by its native country of Sweden for a docudrama that hasn’t even recieved a release outside of the festival circuit. I present, therefore, not for Oscar’s consideration but your own, a truly original and chilling genre masterpiece: “Let the Right One In“. Read more…

"East of Berlin" / "Them & Us"

January 25th, 2009 Steve No comments

When there’s a deal to be had, or a way to see a sold-out or pricey show, you can bet I’ll be mentioning it on this site.

Paul Dunn & Brendan Gall in "East of Berlin", @ the Tarragon Theatre, to Feb. 8th.

Paul Dunn & Brendan Gall in "East of Berlin", @ the Tarragon Theatre, to Feb. 8th.

Example 1: “East of Berlin“. Hannah Moscovitch’s drama about a young man (Brendan Gall) who is heavily burdened with the knowledge that his father had committed atrocious war crimes, has been the hottest theatre ticket so far in 2009. The remount of the show at Tarragon Theatre has been extended twice already, and most shows are already sold out. Since the theatre can’t extend a third time, they’ve added two Sunday 7pm shows, and those are your best bet for reservations, since the shows were just added this past week.

Since this show has so much buzz that even your grandma in Port Hope has heard about it, there are very few deals on tickets (the Sunday shows are regularly priced). Tarragon has also canceled its Sunday PWYC matinees (all matinees are now regularly priced) in favour of special rush pricing on Friday night shows; as of 6pm on Fridays, the box office releases $15 ($10 for non-remount shows) tickets to those people lined up. For “Black Rider“, I recall lining up at 5pm, and leaving empty handed at 6:10pm. If you really want to score discount tickets to “East of Berlin”, I’d recommend showing up with a friend (or a good book or an mp3 player) around 3pm or 4pm on a Friday; you can always go for dinner after getting your tickets.

(click the “more” link to hear how you can easily score FREE tickets to “Them and Us“, and watch a video of distinguished Canadian theatre actor Micheal Healey inviting someone to violate his ample posterior). Read more…

Proof of Ghosts @ Marylou Flamingo

January 22nd, 2009 Steve No comments
Marylou Flamingo.

Marylou Flamingo.

So, I wrote a fair bit about Soundscapes in-stores last week. Since that post, they’ve announced three new dates: Feb. 4th – Bruce Peninsula (@ 7pmThese guys are terrific), Feb 10th – Hylozoists (@ 6pm – also a very highly rated band), and Feb 24th – Gentleman Reg (@ 6pm – I’ve been writing about Gentleman Reg for almost as long as I’ve been writing the Gracing the Stage updates – what I’ve heard of his new album is superb). Plus, Sonic Boom is doing an in-store with Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains on Jan. 29th @ 7pm.

Kristan Klimczak organizing yet another radical in-store performance and party for Marylou Flamingo

Kristan Klimczak organizing yet another can't miss in-store performance and party for Marylou Flamingo

But record shops don’t have a moratorium on great FREE concerts. Enter Marylou Flamingo’s proprietor, Kristan Klimczak.

Voted Toronto’s best vintage clothing store this past November by Now Magazine, who also name checked the store in their style 2008 roundup, Marylou Flamingo has quickly established itself as a fixture for clothes horses looking to assemble fashionable vintage ensembles. Actress Christine Horne, so wonderful in the recent “Miss Julie: Sheh’Mah” at the Theatre Centre, was profiled at Marylou Flamingo when interviewed by eTalk Daily to promote her feature film debut in “The Stone Angel“.

(More about the Marylou Flamingo music series, including tonight’s guests Proof of Ghosts, after the jump.) Read more…

"Man on Wire" & "The Wrestler"

January 13th, 2009 Steve 2 comments

Tuesdays are likely to be the days I write about film most often on this blog. Why? Well, although Cineplex may have discontinued their discount day, several theatres still offer cheaper pricing on Tuesdays, and I despise paying full price for anything (my mother says this trait comes from my Scottish ancestry).

Of the converted “repertory cinemas” in Toronto – The Bloor, the Fox, the Kingsway, The Royal, and the Revue – only the Revue still offers Tuesday discounts. It’s a terrific deal; you can see a double bill of films for just $5, after your $6.50 membership purchase.

Screening this week  is terrific documentary “Man on Wire“.

(More about this film, and also Mickey Rourke’s Golden Globe winning performance in “The Wrestler”, after the jump). Read more…