SummerWorks preview: A magical, imaginative & entertaining piece of storytelling in Yarn

HERO-Yarn_photo1-small1I spent a lovely evening at the Majlis Art Garden last night, for a preview performance of the SummerWorks production of Alex Eddington’s one-human show Yarn, directed by Tyler Seguin and Helen Juvonen.

It’s a covered outdoor space with chairs set up in a semi-circle around a stage that sits in the nook of what sort of looks like an open-sided garage, but used to be a welding studio. Sitting in the cool summer air before the show started, breathing in the smell of cedar chips and taking in the smiles of fellow audience members as we listened to Eddington’s sound check, I had the opportunity to chat with Trisha, whose home is part of the building, about the space. A seasonal performance space in the Queen West neighbourhood, Majlis Art Garden gets its name from the Arabic word “majlis” – meaning “a place to sit” – the space’s name inspired by the “majalis” of the golden age of 10th century Spain, salon-like gatherings featuring music, dance, poetry, philosophy and debate.

And, then, Eddington begins to spin his Yarn.
My brain loves stories.
My brain loves words…

If Eddington didn’t have me already – and he did – he had me with these lyrics.
Based on a true story, Yarn is the story of a young man’s journey to the Isle of Mull, Scotland in a quest to find his voice. He gets a job as a chambermaid, and plans to spend his free time seeing the sights and composing. Told through song, wordplay, music and digital looping, storytelling and a puppet named Buttercup, Eddington weaves his tale, a one-human cast of several characters, not all human.

Ancient mythology, superstition, wishful thinking and unexpected adventures abound, with Eddington’s goings-on running parallel to that of the young man in the story within his story. As he mixes traditional storytelling and musicianship with modern technology – playing music on both standard and found object instruments – the effect is quite enchanting. And the bodhrán that hangs up centre doubles as a screen for shadow and light play, as well as a looking like a full moon, presiding over the mystic landscape. And I love the purple trombone.

LIfe is what happens when you’re trying to come up with your story.

Yarn is a magical, imaginative and entertaining piece of storytelling. Go see this – check out details for dates/times here. And be sure to check out upcoming arts events at Majlis Art Garden.


Time lapse video of Lisa Anita Wegner Transformation @ STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night

Hey all – A quick second post to follow up the slide show of Lisa Anita Wegner’s opening night of her STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? Transformation event at The Black Cat Gallery: Wegner’s time lapse video of the evening’s metamorphosis, including GoPro cam footage of stylist Wanda MacRae’s perspective.


Some sympathy for the devils in StageWorks Toronto’s Assassins

Assassins colourized alley“Attention must be paid!” This line from The Death of a Salesman is used as a major talking point by John Wilkes Booth in Assassins. Not able to achieve recognition by regular means, there are some people who will go to extreme measures to be noticed, undertaking the death of another.

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Assassins – music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman, and directed by Lorraine Kimsa and Michael Yaneff, with music direction by Tom Kerr – takes us through a history of nine American assassins, from the 1860s to the 1970s.

Starting at a carnival in limbo, the Proprietor introduces eight of the assassins, arming each with a period appropriate handgun. Spinning the Wheel of Presidents, the Proprietor starts it all off with Booth in 1865 – the father of American presidential assassinations. Our trip through history is not a chronological one, and each outcome is interwoven with various scenes of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore on their comic, bumbling road to their target Gerald Ford. And throughout, the Balladeer adds musical moral commentary on the situation at hand.

It’s not all dark comedy fun and games, though – the final assassination presented – the most affecting historically and personally for America – is nurtured to its horrible fruition by Booth and the others as they coax Lee Harvey Oswald to pull the trigger on John F. Kennedy from that Dallas Book Depository window.

Overall, an excellent cast, serving up some strong vocals – with some stand-outs. Luke Witt is very effective as the devilishly seductive Proprietor, while Hugh Ritchie is beautifully bright and soothing as the Balladeer – the devil and the angel on opposite shoulders of the collective assassins’ consciousness. Rich Burdett is remarkable as Booth, combining a striking, commanding presence and powerful vocals – and his scene with Oswald (played with great passion and inner conflict by Nicholas Arnold) is particularly chilling. Will van der Zyl delivers a hilarious and poignant performance as the crazy Santa Samuel Byck, in his tape recorded letters to Leonard Bernstein and Richard Nixon, outlining his plan to fly a 747 at Nixon in 1974. Laurie Hurst is lovably kooky as Moore and Christie Stewart is adorably deluded as Fromme – and Stewart does a lovely duet, “Unworthy of Your Love,” with Mike Buchanan (nice work as the sensitive, but extremely troubled John Hinckley Jr.), a love song to their celebrity obsessions Charles Manson and Jodi Foster.

Collectively, the Ensemble (Anthony Botelho, Stephen Flett, Lauren Lazar, Suzanne Miller and Peter Nielson) give a lovely, moving performance of “Something Just Broke,” presenting first-hand citizen accounts of where they were when they heard about their president’s death, led by especially strong vocals by Lazar. And the assassins do a great job with “Another National Anthem” and the finale “Everybody’s Got the Right” – hymns of the disenfranchised and marginalized, left behind economically and in some cases dealing with mental health issues. Eerie in light of ongoing current events in the U.S., where everybody’s got the right to own a gun, but not everyone has access to mental health care or equal opportunity – and the deadly, tragic combination these can make.

With shouts to set designer Michelle Tracey, and lighting designers Karen Brown and Paul Harris, for the aesthetically pleasing, very effective multi-level creepy carnival in limbo, with great use of back-screen projection for the footage of the Kennedys making their way from the airport and through Dallas to that shot that was heard around the world. And the use of balloons on set to create the gunshot sounds was both clever and spooky.

Everyone needs to be loved and everyone needs to matter. But not everyone goes about it by deciding to kill the President of the United States. And rightly so. For a couple of hours, we hear their stories, their reasons – and perhaps we can offer up some sympathy. But in light of a deadly, final outcome, we can only feel so sorry for these poor devils.

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Assassins is a rousing, darkly entertaining and moving piece of musical cautionary storytelling. Attention must be paid.

Assassins continues its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre until July 27.

Beautifully candid & vulnerable – Angela Saini’s “Something Like I’m Beautiful” music vid

Just released today, Angela Saini’s new music video “Something Like I’m Beautiful” is a lovely visual realization of the song, from her latest CD Leap. It’s one of my favourite songs; beautifully candid and vulnerable, it speaks to a feeling that every woman has had at some point – and, in some cases, all too often. No matter who she is, a woman can always use a reminder that she matters and that she’s beautiful.

Toronto Fringe: A journey to home in one-woman show The Art of Traditional Head-tying

the_art_of_traditional_head-tying.web_-250x250Saw another moving and entertaining one-person show yesterday: The Art of Traditional Head-tying. Written by Kanika Ambrose (who Alumnae Theatre folks and fans will recognize from After Mrs. Rochester) and directed by Virgilia Griffith, the solo show is running at St. Vladimir’s Theatre as part of Toronto Fringe.

Ambrose takes her character Rosie – and the audience – on a journey from Canada to Dominica, where Rosie was raised by her grandmother, who taught her how to tie various types of head scarves when she was a child. She returns to her homeland to teach a workshop on the art of traditional head-tying and is bitterly disappointed to find her granny’s grave site unkempt, her two lazy nieces too busy partying to take care, and her students too distracted with their day-to-day lives to engage with the class. For Rosie, keeping the tradition of head-tying alive is not just about preserving culture, it is about industry and empowering people with a marketable skill.

Also partly a lesson in culture and cultural dress, the play features information on the topics at hand, including voice-overs from Ms. Annelia Lizina St. Rose, an authority on Dominican head-tying, and Mr. Lennox Honeychurch, a top historian in Domenica. And the program includes illustrations of head-tying styles and a glossary of terms pertaining to traditional wear in Dominica. So if you’re like me and didn’t know a thing about Dominican head-tying when you came to see the show, you’ll walk out knowing a lot more.

Ambrose nimbly shifts from character to character – both physically and vocally – a one-woman cast, playing her two young nieces (one a vacuous material girl and the other a fierce hip hop girl); a niece’s lay-about boyfriend; her charming and cocky childhood friend/sweetheart, now a bus driver; and a cheeky older man she meets at the cemetery.

In the end, a journey that started as a task ends up being one of discovery – a search for home and a longing to connect with her dead grandmother. The place Rosie used to all “home” has changed and her real home is in her heart.

The Art of Traditional Head-tying is a heartwarming piece of one-woman storytelling about culture, family and home – with an engaging cast of characters.

You have one more chance to catch this show: today (July 13) at 9 p.m.


Toronto Fringe: Taking a ride with downtown EMS folks in The Emergency Monologues

hammock_between_2_ambusI never realized that the Toronto EMS folks had to deal with so much poo.

Morgan Jones Phillips’ one-man show The Emergency Monologues is a series of anecdotes based on his real-life experiences as a downtown paramedic, now playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille main space as part of the Toronto Fringe.

Using The Wheel of Misfortune, the monologues are chosen at random and Phillips gives the audience an hour-long peek into the job. Some of the stories are hilariously gross; some highlight the profound stupidity human beings are capable of, while others are of a more dire nature. We learned that “Code 5” means that the situation is pretty much hopeless – the patient is totally dead (as opposed to partially dead) and there’s nothing you can do for them. In the middle of the show, he takes a music break, picking up an acoustic guitar and serenading us with an original medical issue-related song.

During yesterday’s performance, we got two poo-related stories, an emergency birth (which also included a miraculous conversation with the patient in French, as it was the only language they had in common – and a bonus birthing story), a check-in on an elderly lady feared dead, a drunken balcony leap and a comedy of errors with an incoherent, whispering man. The music break featured “Every Bone in My Body,” about an overly optimistic daredevil, his sin visited on his son.

Phillips is an excellent storyteller – engaging, funny and frank – down to earth and circumspect about what he does as a paramedic. On the back of the program are 11 rules for paramedics, the first two being:

  1. People die.
  2. You can’t always change rule #1.

Other job-related wisdom includes rule #11: In an apartment building, the patient is always in the last door at the end of the hallway, usually on the left.

Kinda makes you want to reconsider your living arrangements if you’re thusly situated.

A remarkable piece of randomly selected stories about life as a downtown Toronto paramedic, The Emergency Monologues is not for the squeamish.

The Emergency Monologues has one more show during the Toronto Fringe fest: today (July 12) at 7:30 p.m. If you can’t make that one, no worries – the show got into The Best of the Toronto Fringe Festival (July 16-30 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts), so check out those listings. Copies of the script are available for sale at performances – or online.



Toronto Fringe: A peek inside the men’s room in The Urinal Dialogues

ud2pic.2talking_657x800I ventured into the world of the men’s room yesterday – in this case, the Al Green Theatre stage transformed into a men’s washroom for the Toronto Fringe run of Mark H. Albert’s The Urinal Dialogues, directed by Mario D’Alimonte.

Inspired by sound bites overheard in men’s washrooms, The Urinal Dialogues plays out in a series of men’s room scenes, bookended by sweetly funny “Father and Son” scenes, done in voice-over by David Lang (Father) and Evany Rosen (Son), the scenes segued with verses from the show’s theme song (written by Albert, Wayne Cohen and Hartley Mandel; performed by Cohen and Eric Walker). The clever set design (designed and built by Tim Maxim) features three urinals, placed so the actors face the audience, a condom machine and a counter with two sinks.

Featuring a strong trio of actors (Albert, Holm Bradwell and Derrick Evans), the scenes are a nicely balanced mix of comedy and drama, shifting from hilarious to harrowing to heartbreaking – all performed with high energy and truth.

The Urinal Dialogues is a smart, funny and socially astute – at times surprisingly poignant – look at the culture and etiquette of the men’s washroom.

The show continues its run at the Al Green Theatre until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times.