#MeToo from the other side in the sharply funny, provocative Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes

Alice Snaden & Matthew Edison. Set & costume design by Michael Gianfrancesco. Lighting design by Bonnie Beecher. Photo by Joy von Tiedemann.

 

Tarragon Theatre kicks off the New Year with the premiere of Hannah Moscovitch’s sharply funny, provocative #MeToo look at a student/professor affair in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, directed by Sarah Garton Stanley, assisted by Eva Barrie. A famous 40-something author and popular professor, grappling with writer’s block and a crumbling marriage, would rather not have the lovely, smart girl in the red coat standing so close to him—but he is irresistibly drawn to her despite the personal and professional ramifications. Questions of the nature of consent, power dynamic, and mixing up admiration and love, come into play as we witness the evolution of the relationship over time.

Jon (Matthew Edison) is a 40-something author and professor. Both famous for his writing and popular among students, he’s feeling out of sorts as he struggles with writer’s block on his current novel, and navigates separation and impending divorce from his third wife. Enter the bright and attractive first-year student Annie (Alice Snaden), who is a big fan. And she lives across the street from him.

Despite his scoffing at youthful sexuality and the middle-aged men who are attracted to it, and his initial discomfort at Annie’s attentions, Jon’s personal and professional resolve melt in the face of his hot mess of a life and a longing to get close to this fascinating young woman who appears to be coming on to him.

The “love story” is narrated by Jon, who speaks about himself in the third person and punctuates events with editorial comments that both admit and rationalize his actions. In this way, the narrative—presented from Jon’s point of view and coupled with surtitles that read like pointed chapter headings (video design by Laura Warren)—takes on the feel of a novel, written from a man’s point of view and ultimately relegating the female character to a roughly drawn, vague love interest. Despite his awareness of the sloppy, dismissive effect this has on writing, Jon proceeds to live this dynamic with Annie.

A few years after the end of the affair, Annie brings forward a perspective that questions the consensual nature of that relationship—given the age difference and power imbalance. As more years pass, Annie finds some closure as she examines their relationship from his point of view.

Razor-sharp, nuanced performances from Edison and Snaden in this thoughtful, provocative and funny two-hander; nicely complemented by Michael Gianfrancesco’s perspectival set of multiple doors, and Bonnie Beecher’s lighting design, adding a luminous sense of discovery and mystery. Edison gives Jon a genuine combination of cockiness and self-consciousness; above all the student drama, sex and stupidity, but wondering if he can still be cool and relate to them, Jon fears becoming a stereotypical middle-aged man who chases after younger women as much as he eschews the behaviour. Using the stresses of his mess of a life to rationalize his affair with Annie, Jon believes she’s coming on to him and that he’s really falling for her—and that makes it alright. Snaden brings an ethereal, wise child edge to Annie; wide-eyed, smart and a brilliant writer in her own right, Annie longs for acceptance, acknowledgment and a sense of identity. Despite Annie’s attention and attraction to Jon, and that she was of legal age, she realizes that she was still the student and he was still her professor.

Jon was in a position of power and could’ve stopped the affair from happening, but didn’t—and what Annie needed wasn’t a lover, but a mentor. In the end, it looks like they both mistook admiration for love. And the middle class isn’t as “nice” as some would expect.

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes continues in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until February 2; advance tickets available online. This premiere is bound to provoke questions and discussions—get out to see it and get in on the conversation.

 

A journey to medieval Russia in the delightfully charming, playful Tea at the Palace

Ann Powell and David Powell. Designed & created by Ann Powell and David Powell. Lighting design by Kevin Hutson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Puppetmongers Theatre takes us to medieval Russia with a combination of old Russian tales in the delightfully charming, playful Tea at the Palace. Co-created, designed and performed by Puppetmongers’ Co-Artistic Directors, brother and sister David and Ann Powell, and co-created and directed by Sharon Weisbaum, we’re invited on a journey that ranges from the Tsar’s palace to the farmhouses of his subjects as a newly ascended Prince proves his mettle as ruler, providing judgements and finding a wife. Celebrating its 30th anniversary of holiday shows, Puppetmongers presents Tea at the Palace for a short run in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace.

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Ann Powell and David Powell. Designed & created by Ann Powell and David Powell. Lighting design by Kevin Hutson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

When a young Prince ascends the throne, his people wonder what kind of Tsar he’ll make. He soon finds himself passing judgement on a farmer who’s unearthed a samovar in his field. Informed upon by a nosey, grouchy neighbour, the farmer is accused of believing himself to be equal to the Tsar; and the Prince soon finds they have more in common than one would think. And when the same grouchy man contests the ownership of an apple tree, which his widow neighbour says is hers, the widow’s young daughter impresses with her riddle-solving skills, resolving the dispute.

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David Powell and Ann Powell. Designed & created by Ann Powell and David Powell. Lighting design by Kevin Hutson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Despite the concerns and disapproval of his court, and breaking with tradition, the Prince chooses the clever young peasant woman to be his wife—and, once again, she must solve three seemingly impossible riddles to prove herself worthy. But can she manage the scheming courtiers who disapprove of the match and want to separate her from the Prince?

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Ann Powell and David Powell. Designed & created by Ann Powell and David Powell. Lighting design by Kevin Hutson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Powells magically whisk us away to a world of tradition, ritual and ceremony—where even the making of tea has a set, proper procedure. Using beautiful, cleverly designed puppets and props, ranging from miniature to life-sized—and multipurpose, folding set pieces that reveal miniature pop-up environments—the storytelling is wondrous, entertaining and instructive; and the performances are playful and entertaining.

Despite the pomp, ceremony and entitlement of his upbringing, the young Prince proves himself to be a fair-minded, egalitarian ruler who judges people based on actions over social status. Audience members of all ages will delight in the beautifully crafted, imaginative and fun storytelling artistry of this tale.

Tea at the Palace continues in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace until December 29; matinées run today (Saturday, December 28) and Sunday, December 29 at 2:30 pm; and there’s an evening performances tonight (Saturday, December 28) at 7 pm. Advance tickets available online, except for the Family Pack, which is only available by phone or in person: 416-531-1827 (Mon from 10am-5pm, Tues-Sat from 10am-7pm, Sun from 11am-1pm). It’s a very short run, so catch it while you can.

 

Top 10 Theatre 2019

It’s that time of the year again. Here are my top 10 theatre productions for 2019, in alphabetical order (based on Toronto productions I reviewed this calendar year):

Athabasca. Convergence Theatre

Between Riverside and Crazy. Coal Mine Theatre

The Black Drum. Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf and Deaf Cultural Centre

The Flick. Outside the March

The Huns. One Four One Collective

Night Feed. Canvas Sky Theatre

Pass Over. Obsidian Theatre

Rose. Soulpepper

White Heat. Pressgang Theatre

The Winter’s Tale. Shakespeare in the Ruff

 

Honourable Mention

Actually. The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, in association with Obsidian Theatre

Election. Common Boots Theatre, in association with Nightwood Theatre and Theatre Direct

Every Day She Rose. Nightwood Theatre

Intangible Adorations. Haus of Dada, Workman Arts, KC Cooper and Meek

The Learned Ladies. George Brown Theatre School

Othello. Shakespeare BASH’d

 

Remembering Carlin Belof

Carlin was in her mid-teens and I was in my early 20s when we first met, both students at Theatre Aquarius Summer Theatre School in Hamilton, Ontario during the mid-80s—and I remember being struck by her focus, maturity and talent. An old, creative soul, she was already writing songs that were melodic, poignant and catchy; revealing a deep sense of empathy for and sharp observation of the human condition. We bonded over growing up in Burlington (aka “Borington”), a shared irreverent sense of humour, and a mutual love of music and theatre.

Carlin and I reconnected a couple of years ago, through our mutual friend Lizzie Violet. She’d been living in Toronto, writing, recording and performing her songs, a singer/songwriter working as a barista to pay the rent. Her creative spirit had branched out to include making amazingly detailed crocheted creations: figures from horror, sci-fi and fantasy, which she sold, along with more traditional crocheted fashions, via Unravelled Crochet. I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her crochet work at the beginning of this year.

Throughout her illness, Carlin kept on making things: hats, scarves and mittens—many of which she made especially for or gave to friends. It kept her busy while she was in hospital, keeping the cabin fever at bay while she stayed positive and hopeful that she’d soon be able to return to her new apartment and a job she loved at Birds and Beans Coffee. I will always cherish the green and grey striped hat she gave me.

An extremely talented, kind and generous soul, Carlin had an open heart, a creative mind, and a twinkle in her eye with an arch of a brow that accompanied a mischievous grin. Cancer took Carlin from us—gone way too soon, she was so loved and will be profoundly missed. I picture her on a tropical beach, riding a unicorn named Hope.

Huge thanks to the staff at Princess Margaret Hospital, especially her team on the palliative care floor, for taking such good care of Carlin. If you’re looking for a good cause to support this holiday season, please consider donating to the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

 

 

Good silly panto fun in Jack and the BeansTalk—A Merry Magical Pantomime

Torrent Productions presents its annual Coxwell/Gerrard neighbourhood holiday panto with Jack and the BeansTalk—A Merry Magical Pantomime, written and directed by Rob Torr, with music direction by Paul Moody and choreography by Stephanie Graham; running at Royal Canadian Legion Branch #001 (243 Coxwell Ave, Toronto, just south of Gerrard St. East). A missing treasured chicken, magic talking beans, a saucy Dame, a love-smitten young hero and a diabolical villain combine with song, dance, slapstick and wordplay for some good silly fun for all ages in this panto adaptation of a fairy tale classic.

When a banished, disenchanted Fairy (an adorably sweet and wry-witted Jamie McRoberts) catches wind that the Giant (voiced with menacing force by Cynthia Dale) has sent the evil villain Fleshcreep (Cyrus Lane, living up to the name and relishing the deliciously diabolical nastiness) to find a magic chicken that lays golden eggs, she begins to reclaim her magic and casts a spell to protect the chicken. This, however, doesn’t stop Fleshcreep from pressuring local Squire (played with regal dignity and moral conflict by William Fisher), who knows something about that chicken, to raise taxes on an already financially stressed population.

Local farmer Dame Trott (Greg Campbell in a saucy redhead Queen Mum meets Coronation Street maven turn) is at her wit’s end about how to pay the rent and instructs her son Jack (played with charismatic high energy by Caulin Moore) to sell their beloved cow Daisy (operated by Christopher Fulton and Tim Funnell, giving her eyelash-batting cuteness and swagger). In a series of tricky transactions, Jack ends up selling Daisy for a handful of talking beans! Meanwhile, the Squire’s daughter Jill (Teresa Tucci, with feisty determination and positivity) has been taken by the Giant. Good thing those beans, with the help of the Fairy, grow into a massive beanstalk that leads to the Giant’s castle—and Jack sets off to save Jill. Our hero is assisted throughout by the hilarious Ed #1 (Tim Funnell) and Ed #2 (Christopher Fulton), who entertain us and befuddle the bad guy.

Heroic deeds, secret plots, surprising revelations, and even a wedding, emerge; all accompanied by pop music favourites, some impressive hoofing and synchronized movement, and wacky slapstick and wordplay. And, of course, since this is a panto, audience participation is encouraged and appreciated. There’s a real community atmosphere with this production, with both the company and the folks from the neighbourhood making this an annual holiday tradition; and local business sponsors are shouted out throughout the performance, with live commercial spots.

Jack and the BeansTalk continues till December 29; please note the early curtain time of 7:00 pm for evening performances. Advance tickets available online, by calling 1-800-838-3006 or at the door.

December (pseudo) hiatus

Hey all—I can’t believe it’s December already!

That means it’s time for the cowbell blog’s annual December (pseudo) hiatus.

I say “pseudo” because, as usual, I’ll be seeing and reviewing a few holiday shows this month. In the spirit of holiday surprises, I won’t say what shows—but I will say there will be some holiday-themed/panto fun and shenanigans. So stay tuned later this month!

Happy holidays to you and yours—and all good things for 2020! It’ll be a brand new decade, with fresh opportunities and developments on the horizon.