Live & Alive with Angela Saini’s uplifting, sweet sweet sounds @ The Cameron House

 

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Angela Saini

Angela Saini threw a big party at The Cameron House on Thursday night—and everyone was invited! Saini launched her Live and Alive CD to a standing room only crowd in the back room of the Toronto music venue; the album went global on Friday.

Singer songwriter Paul Lamarche opened, treating the packed house to an acoustic set of his mellow, country-infused sounds. With notes of romance and melancholy, Lamarche took us from the wistful, nostalgia of “Ferris Wheel” to the more funkified “Make It Good” and a fun cover of Toto’s “Africa,” which included some audience participation. Closing with “All the Way” at the piano, Lamarche showcased his remarkable vocal range, especially in the upper register. Keep an eye out for Lamarche.

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Paul Lamarche

Live and Alive happened part by chance, part by design. Saini joined forces with Eric Stecki, who recorded her gigs at The Mod Club and The Drake Hotel; tracks were subsequently mixed by Ian Bodzasi and mastered by Harry Hess. Saini’s band includes Francois Martin (guitar/background vocals), Jeff Scale (bass) and David Sufrin (drums), who joined her onstage on Thursday night at the launch.

An engaging, sometimes cheeky, and always inclusive performer, Saini performed a mix of songs from the record, along with some brand spankin’ new tunes, giving us a sneak peek at what’s to come along with the fan favourites, in a combo acoustic/full band set (reflecting the recordings on the CD).

Saini’s pop sound is a soulful mix of of fierce and fragile. The lyrics are reflective and positive, even when calling out bad behaviour (“Sweet Sweet Mouth”) and, above all, tell us that it’s never too late to turn things around and make a new start (“U Turn,” “Here I Go Again” and “Living on the Bright Side”). Live and Alive also includes poignant, tender songs of love and connection, including connection to oneself (“Stay Here with Me,” “Something Like I’m Beautiful” and “Dear Diary”).

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Jeff Scale, David Sufrin, Angela Saini & Francois Martin

“U Turn” is one of my personal faves; turns out, it’s a fave of Lamarche’s too. And the whole audience was invited to sing along—and did, with great delight—on “Living on the Bright Side.” Saini’s encore, new song “Black Sheep,” shouts out not giving any effs about what other people think.

Awesome and uplifting, sweet sweet sounds at Angela Saini’s Live and Alive CD launch. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Angela Saini.

In the meantime, check out Saini’s video for “Here I Go Again”:

 

Facing death with dignity, humour & love in the thoughtful, sharply funny, moving A Better Place

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Rachel Cairns, Catherine Gardner, Ian Ronningen & Kris Langille in A Better Place – photo by Bruce Peters

LilyRose Productions opened Ramona Baillie’s A Better Place, directed by Barbara Larose, with assistant director Ellen Green, in the Factory Theatre Studio last night. Based on a true story, A Better Place takes us on the 14-month journey of a woman faced with a devastating medical diagnosis.

Stella Russo (Kris Langille) is an active 55-year-old who loves singing in her Catholic church choir and bowling in the community league. Then she learns that she has ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease)—a rapid degenerative neurological disease that attacks the nerves that control voluntary muscles—and her life, and perspective on death, changes drastically. There is no cure and she doesn’t have long to live.

As Stella works to cope with the side effects of chemo treatments and a body that’s no longer working properly, never knowing what’s going to go next and terrified of finding herself unable to breathe, her BFF Dee (Catherine Gardner), boyfriend Bill (Edward Heeley) and doctor daughter Kate (Rachel Cairns) must also come to terms with her ultimately fatal condition. Meanwhile, Kate is struggling with personal issues of her own; her focus on her work at the hospital has come at the expense of her marriage, leaving her musician husband Zack (Ian Ronningen) feeling abandoned.

When Stella decides she wants to die on her own terms, she encounters resistance from her neurologist Dr. Green (Jillian Rees-Brown), who insists she join a support group; and dogma from parish priest Father Perez (Isai Rivera Blas), who will withhold last rites and warns that she’ll forfeit her place in heaven. Her close friends and family have mixed feelings, and her young streetwise choir friend Chris (Ngabo Nabea) is willing to offer assistance, but even he’s only willing to go so far.

Nice work from the cast on this thought-provoking and poignant piece that doesn’t get too down on itself, with a script that’s infused with cheeky, at times dark, humour. Beyond various cast members merely schlepping furniture and props about, the staging has the ensemble gathering to assist in Stella’s transformation from health to disability.

Langille gives a marathon performance as Stella. Navigating the physical and emotional challenges of this devastating disease, Stella is a fighter who makes that final choice in the spirit of living with purpose and dying on her own terms.

Other stand-outs include Gardner’s wise-cracking Dee; a dear, loyal friend when times are tough, even the super positive, supportive Dee must come to terms with a sense of loss as Stella’s condition deteriorates. Cairns gives Kate a great sense of inner conflict; a surgeon who relies on logic and reason, she finds herself forced to feel tumultuous emotion as she braces herself for the inevitable death of her mother and works her way back into her marriage.

Ronningen brings a sweet, open-heartedness to Zack; supportive of Kate’s career, he’s troubled to find himself alone in their marriage—and he can only take so much isolation. And Nabea does a great job in two very different roles; as Chris, in a lovely two-hander scene with Stella as he realizes what she’s intending; and as the cynical bartender Rick, advising Zack to look long and hard at how Kate’s treating him.

With shouts to Rick Jones’ sound design, which features snippets of popular love songs played during the scene changes, with the song selections getting progressively more introspective and melancholy as the play progresses. And to stage manager Margot “Mom” Devlin for keeping it all together and moving along from the booth.

Facing death with dignity, humour and love in the thoughtful, sharply funny and moving A Better Place.

A Better Place continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until Dec 11; get your advance tix online or by calling 416-504-9971.

The run includes three special post-performance presentations:

Thurs, Dec 1: A panel discussion with lawyer Shelley Birenbaum and Dr. Fred Besik, moderated by Mardi Tindal, on the legality and morality of compassionate deaths.

Sun, Dec 4: Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant, who is also Co-Chair of the House of Commons and Senate Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, joins the director, playwright and cast for a talkback.

Wed, Dec 7: Q&A with the director, playwright and cast.

Book preview: Words of passion & fury in Brenda Clews’ erotic, mythological Tidal Fury

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Brenda Clews performs a piece from Tidal Fury at RAW Natural Born Artists’ VERVE Artist Showcase

Artist and poet Brenda Clews will be launching her new book Tidal Fury, published by Guernica Editions on December 4 as part of Guernica’s December Delights Book Launch event at Supermarket. Part poetry, part storytelling, Tidal Fury weaves a narrative of love, obsession and power in a series of poem stories that includes images of original art works by Clews.

Folks who attended RAW Natural Born Artists’ VERVE Artist Showcase at Mod Club back in August got a taste of Tidal Fury, when Clews donned a Medusa headpiece and performed a powerful, evocative multimedia set of her work.

The fierce, lyrical narrative shifts from invoking the mythological in “Pythia, Priestess of Apollo” and the erotic in “Remember the Night…” and “Approach” to the reminiscence of letters to an absent lover in “Letter in Saffron” and the cerebral wordplay of “Intimacy.”

Incorporating ruminations on, and hallucinations of, time and space, Tidal Fury is also an examination of identity, including the masking of identity, featuring a compelling personification of jealousy in the form of the old woman and her relationship with the sea as she keeps a vice-like grip on the tide line. The ebb and flow of time, passion and the sea – as the waves undulate, so to do the bodies.

Words of passion and fury in Brenda Clews’ erotic, mythological Tidal Fury.

Brenda Clews’ Tidal Fury launch will be featured in Guernica’s upcoming December Delights Book Launch event on December 4 at 3:30 p.m. at Supermarket. Other featured works include Max’s Folly by Bill Turpin, The Examined Life by Luciano Iacobelli, Canticles I: mmxvi by George Elliott Clarke, Maniac Drifter by Laura Marello, Mankind & Other Stories of Women by Marianne Ackerman, Clarke Blaise: Essays on His Works & Clarke Blaise: The Interviews ed. J.R. (Tim) Struthers.

In the meantime, check out the trailer for Tidal Fury:

You can keep up with Brenda Clews on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Childhood friends grow up, lose touch & take a wacky trip out of bounds in big fun, big-hearted Playday Mayday

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Caitlin Howden, Mike Hughes, Colin Munch, Anders Yates & Matt Goldberg in Playday Mayday – photo by John Gundy

Remember playing Twister, Operation, Risk? Ever have an imaginary friend, pretend you were in space, turn your hand into a firearm? When you were a kid, was there a place in your town or neighbourhood you weren’t allowed to go – a place that was out of bounds?

Uncalled For does it all – and then some – in their thoughtful comic return to childhood games and fantasy in Playday Mayday, running now in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace, produced in association with the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival. Written and directed by Matt Goldberg, Mike Hughes, Dan Jeannotte, Jacynthe Lalonde, Colin Munch and Anders Yates, the cast features Goldberg, Caitlin Howden, Hughes, Munch and Yates.

Five friends, once inseparable as they played together around their coastal town, have grown up and apart with adult busy-ness and responsibilities. After all those years of meaning to keep in touch, they gather at the edge of a cliff, awkwardly trying to reconnect at water’s edge. Then, something weird happens. One by one, they each lose their cellphones, watching with horror as the devices fall into the water of high tide below. Bruce (Munch) gets called into work, while the others wait for low tide to venture down. Down into out of bounds (OOB) to retrieve their phones. And then, something magical happens.

OOB is a world of eternal childhood, where grown-ups rekindle their sense of fun and play – and the four friends (Goldberg, Howden, Hughes and Yates) launch into games. Childhood games with an adult twist, like corporate Twister, a deadly game of 20 questions, hand gun arms dealer, a slimy amphibian imaginary friend with an agenda, and a unique version of musical chairs that features hip hop and period dance moves (choreography by Holly Greco and Stephanie McKenna). Oh, and the audience gets to play too – but you’ll have to go see for yourselves.

Meanwhile, Bruce has been working at the games call centre when his boss Mr. Wolf (Hughes) announces that there’s a situation in OOB. Concerned about his friends, Bruce volunteers to go down to save them. Of course, he ends up joining in on the fun and games. Which become not so fun when Mr. Wolf threatens to leave the five friends stranded, with the incoming high tide fast approaching.

Awesome work from the ensemble. Stand-out moments include a spacewalk with a twist; an impressive display of tongue-twisting alliteration in a courtroom scene; and an intergalactic space battle that goes horribly astray, but not for the reasons you might think. Playing together again and banding together against Mr. Wolf, friendship reignites with loads of big fun on the edge of reality.

With shouts to Lalonde for the cool production design, where everyday cast-off object become the stuff of imagination, including red hoodies.

Five childhood friends grow up, lose touch and take a wacky trip out of bounds in the big fun, big-hearted Playday Mayday.

Playday Mayday continues at TPM till Dec 4; check here for show dates/times – please note the 7:30 start time for evening performances. Get your advance tix online at Toronto Sketchfest or Arts Box Office, or call 416-504-7529.

Keep up with all your Uncalled For shenanigans on Twitter and Facebook.

Love, loss & the struggle to avoid getting beached in the poignant, funny Paradise Comics

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Sherman Tsang & Maddie Bautista in Paradise Comics – photos by producer Zach Parkhurst

 

Filament Incubator closes its #8playsin8months season with Caitie Graham’s Paradise Comics, directed by Darwin Lyons. Graham developed Paradise Comics at the Tarragon Theatre’s Young Playwrights Unit, where she now acts as Assistant Writing Instructor. I caught the opening last night at Kensington Hall (in Kensington Market at 56C Kensington Ave., Toronto).

What’s eating 13-year-old Beans (Sherman Tsang)? Is it that she didn’t get selected for science camp? The impending destruction of the planet caused by human disregard for the environment? The fact that her dad George (David Ross) has been sleeping in the car in the garage?

From the moment we enter the theatre, hearing the haunting emo soundtrack (sound by Deanna Choi) and seeing a kitchen strewn with boxes (set by Jingjia Zhang), we enter a melancholy world of disruption and chaos.

The world as Beans knows it is coming to an end. Paradise Comics, her dad’s beloved comic book store, is closing. Plus, he’s been acting weird and sad. So what if she spends more time at the shop than at school? She’s an excellent student, but she has her priorities. Her mom Janie (Sarah Naomi Campbell) has a different take on cutting school, though, and is getting on her case. And her BFF Hannah (Maddie Bautista) is being more hyper than normal, dancing as fast as she can to cheer Beans up. And what has Hannah done to their science project diorama?!

Really lovely work from the cast on this story of family, friendship, heartbreak and devastating change. Tsang brings a dark edge to the whip smart, academically serious and sharp-witted Beans; a science nerd who shares her dad’s love of comic books, she’s caught in the middle of her parents’ troubled marriage and her dad’s impending store closure. Ross is a gentle, laid back, cool dad as George; in some ways still a boy himself, having to say goodbye to his store – representing years of his life, work and passion – has set him adrift. Ross also gives a comic turn as Marvin, the affable and awkward storage company guy who arrives to cart off all the boxes; a comic book aficionado himself, he knows George and and the shop, and provides some surprising insight.

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David Ross & Sarah Naomi Campbell in Paradise Comics

Campbell’s Janie is both ferocious and a big warm hug personified; desperately trying to hold it together, she’s fierce in her fight to save her family from despair and eviction, especially in her attempts to connect with her daughter. Bautista is a quirky delight as Hannah; an outrageously positive kid, but no goody two-shoes, Hannah knows stuff. Finding her ongoing efforts to help Beans constantly shot down, she must decide if she wants to keep on trying or give up.

Beans’ mom and dad, and friend Hannah constitute the equivalent of her whale pod. And, like the whales that rally around an injured pod mate, they all need to be careful to not get beached along with it.

Love, loss and the struggle to avoid getting beached in the poignant, funny Paradise Comics.

Paradise Comics continues at Kensington Hall until Dec 3; it’s an intimate space, so you may want to book your tix in advance. If you haven’t seen a Filament Incubator production this season, what the heck are you waiting for? Get on over to Kensington Hall.

Keep up with Filament Incubator on Twitter and Facebook.

Check out the teaser for Paradise Comics: