Compelling storytelling in the riveting, edgy, darkly funny Slip

Clockwise, from top: Alex Paxton-Beesley, Daniel Pagett, Mikaela Dyke & Anders Yates—photo by Alec Toller

Circlesnake Productions remounts its production of Slip, collectively written by the ensemble and directed by Alec Toller—opening in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace last night.

Walking into what appears to be a crime scene—some of us walking through it to get to the bank of seats opposite the entrance—we become immersed in Jane’s (Mikaela Dyke) apartment. Pieces torn out of books, scraps of paper, post-its litter the floor and cover the walls; and there’s a banner with a strange interlocking symbol (set by Bronwen Lily, lighting by Wesley McKenzie). Jane lies dead in the middle of the floor, red hood pulled up covering her face.

Detective Lynne (Alex Paxton-Beesley) and her partner Mark (Daniel Pagett) assess the scene as they await the arrival of medical examiner Blake (Anders Yates). Is it murder or suicide? Perfectly matched, they work at piecing together a story for this incident, playfully one-upping each other in a private, quick-paced game as each comes up with theories and trajectories.

As the detectives sift through photographs and other evidence found on the scene, we see pieces of Jane’s story played out in flashback—inspired by a photo Lynne finds on a shelf: a relationship with a young black woman, one of two people witnesses saw entering and exiting the apartment. Marina (Nicole Stamp) is Jane’s ex-girlfriend, still on friendly terms and concerned about Jane’s welfare. And we learn that the young ginger-haired man seen in the vicinity turns out to be Chris (Yates), Jane’s brother.

Meanwhile, Lynne is a subject of particular interest in a tribunal investigating an incident where she and Mark pursued a perp into a darkened alley and shots were fired. And she’s in the dog house with their boss Passader (Stamp), who expects great things from her. Brilliant and known for her remarkable instincts, Lynne has been anxious and off her game lately. And it’s not just because of the tribunal—she’s been forgetting, losing her grip on her memory and sense of time. And the investigation into Jane’s death becomes personal—maybe too personal.

Outstanding work from the cast in this tale where crime procedural meets psychological thriller meets dark comedy. Paxton-Beesley and Pagett have amazing chemistry as the two detectives; dedicated and good at their jobs, Lynne and Mark are well-matched, riffing off ideas and theories with a playful, mercurial banter and a good-natured sense of competition. Beneath the professional, hard shell exteriors are two damaged souls. Paxton-Beesley (no stranger to playing detective—Murdoch Mysteries fans will recognize her as Murdoch’s childhood friend turned private detective Winifred “Freddie” Pink) gives a compelling, heartbreaking performance of Lynne’s journey; Jane’s story hits close to home—and the dawning realization of what will it mean for a beloved career she’s dedicated her life to. And Pagett reveals the softer, conflicted side of Mark; a man struggling with alcohol and having a ‘normal’ life when he goes home from the job. Supportive and loyal to Lynne, Mark can’t help but be suspicious and concerned about her recent erratic behaviour.

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Mikaela Dyke & Nicole Stamp—photo by Alec Toller

Dyke gives a moving performance as Jane; deeply troubled, fragile and lost, Jane reaches out in an attempt to reconnect with ex Marina, but can’t bring herself to tell her what’s wrong—revealing and mysterious at the same time. Her perceptions of family are in stark contrast with that of her brother; whose version of the story is true? Stamp shows some great range as the hard-ass, domineering Passader, who has big plans for Lynne and demands she doesn’t screw it up; and the loving, kind Marina who longs to be there for Jane, but whose care and compassion can only go so far. Yates is hilarious as the wisecracking ME Blake, who doesn’t particularly enjoy his job, but game for the quick-paced, sharp-witted exchanges with Lynne and Mark. And he brings an edge of pragmatism and deep-seated pain to Jane’s brother Chris.

The immersive staging puts the audience on either side of Jane’s apartment, giving us a fly-on-the-wall’s-eye view of the proceedings. Photographs and writings become jumping off points for flashbacks, revealing new pieces of the puzzle. Memory and story weave in and out—and stories intersect and combine to a stunning and heart-wrenching revelation.

Compelling storytelling in the riveting, edgy, darkly funny Slip.

 Slip runs in the Tarragon Workspace till April 2; advance tickets available online—strongly recommended as it’s an intimate space with limited seating.

In the meantime, check out the interview with director Alec Toller on Stageworthy Podcast with host Phil Rickaby.

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Portents & prophecy as science meets spirit (or does it?) in compelling The Queen’s Conjuror

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Tim Walker, Joshua Browne & Sochi Fried in The Queen’s Conjuror – photos by John Gundy

Circlesnake Productions opened its production of Joshua Browne and Alec Toller’s The Queen’s Conjuror in The Attic Arts Hub (1402 Queen St. E., Toronto) on Thursday, directed by Toller. I caught the show last night.

A new star has recently appeared in the sky and Queen Elizabeth I (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) wants to know its meaning – particularly if it has any bearing on her reign. Scientist, magician and astrologer John Dee (Tim Walker) has been tasked with discovering the star’s meaning. He enlists the aid of scryer Edward Talbot (Joshua Browne), who is able to commune with spirits – primarily an angel called Uriel (John Fray) – who speak to him and supply him with visions.

Dee and his wife Jane (Sochi Fried) invite Talbot into their home, and find that he’s able to translate a series of strange symbols that appeared to Dee in a vision – and they begin to connect the pieces of a prophecy that seems to relate to the new star.

Their work is confounded by the torture Talbot endures during his sessions with the spirit world, as well as the suspicious, ever watchful eye of Lord William Cecil (Fray), the Queen’s advisor, who’s been set as a watchdog over the project. Working relationships evolve into friendships, and come to include Talbot’s wife Joanna (Roberts-Abdullah). How far will they go to complete the puzzle? And are Talbot’s spirits angels or demons?

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Joshua Browne & John Fray as Uriel

Lovely work from the cast in this intimate period drama, full of eerie spiritualism and ritual, signs and symbols, and the ancient science of divining from the stars, along with a touch of political intrigue. Beyond the quest for the meanings of stars and visions, The Queen’s Conjuror is about how people interpret the information they’re given – and how their subsequent actions impact on their lives.

As Dee, Walker mines the layers of a curious, learned and sharp-witted man with a passion for the truth and an eye on the Queen’s court. Possessing a logical scientific mind, he is capable of both kindness and cruelty in his pursuit; his resolve only shaken when their endeavours touch his life in a negative way. Browne gives Talbot a great combination of humility and entitlement; a gifted scryer, the price he pays for messages and visions is searing physical and emotional pain. And even he wonders if his spirit messengers come from God or the Devil. Fried’s fiercely intelligent and ambitious Jane is in the unique position of being her husband’s professional equal; a partner in his scientific and academic pursuits, she displays a quixotic passion that outstrips Dee’s. And her concern for, and care of, Talbot during his moments of collapse reveal notes of tension – of something more, something shared.

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Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Elizabeth I, with Tim Walker & Sochi Fried

Roberts-Abdullah’s Elizabeth I is regal and warm, imperious and magnanimous; she giveth and she taketh away with dispassionate efficiency. As Talbot’s wife Joanna, she is an observant, self-possessed and creative woman juggling her own work as a poet with her household duties; a nurturing, neglected wife and mother fighting for her marriage. As Uriel, Fray is menacing and manipulative; whispering secrets into Talbot’s ear and observing him as cruel child regards a distressed bug he’s been torturing. And his Cecil is a chilly and cunning authoritarian beneath the polite, charming courtier.

Portents and prophecy as science meets spirit (or does it?) in the compelling period drama The Queen’s Conjuror.

The Queen’s Conjuror continues at The Attic till Nov 20. You can get your tix in advance online – recommended, as it’s an intimate space; perfect to be a fly on the wall as the story unfolds and lives are forever changed.

Epic good times & kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II: Callaghan! & SwordPlay

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I think we can all safely say that last night’s opening of Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II production of Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords was the sweatiest fun Sex T-Rex show yet. At Unit 102 Theatre for a two-night run before heading east, the Sex T-Rex double bill will be the last show running in the Unit 102 space – and Unit 102 Theatre Company is in the process of looking for a new home. Both shows are directed by Alec Toller, with fight choreography by Kevin MacPherson.

Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly, written by Seann Murray and Colin Munch, is a hilarious, action-packed homage to the relic hunting Indiana Jones genre. The opening scene finds the gruffly handsome, leather jacket clad Jack Callaghan (Danny Pagett) seated with three disreputable characters, playing Russian roulette in St. Petersburg (where they just call it “roulette”); he’s lost everything he holds dear and he gives no f*cks. Even in his despair, he can’t resist when his burley, fly by the seat of his pants friend Sal (Connor Bradbury) shows up with one last job. They must find the Hunab Ku, an ancient Mayan relic with untold power, before the evil Dr. Klaus Von Handerstopp (Seann Murray) does. As they set upon their mission with their loyal nerd tech support guy Walt (Julian Frid), memories of their lovely, game and resourceful colleague Muriel (Kaitlin Morrow) haunt Callaghan’s every waking moment. During the nail-biting, side-splitting climax, Callaghan comes face-to-face with Von Handerstopp – and must make a hard choice.

Bang-on, hysterically funny characterizations; evocative exposition via brilliantly written narration; and playful, improv-inspired action that uses imaginative props – all delivered with Sex T-Rex’s signature comedic, cinematic and high-energy stylings – Callaghan! is one big kick-ass fun adventure. All this and one helluva dance break (choreography by Robin Henderson).

SwordPlay: A Play of Swords borrows from some swashbuckling favourites that include nods to The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers and Game of Thrones, as well as 1980s video games. I saw SwordPlay in an earlier double bill back in March (with Watch Out, Wild Kat! at the Storefront Theatre) – and had just as much big fun the second time around.

Epic good times and kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s Callaghan! and SwordPlay World Tour II double bill.

Sex T-Rex continues their Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords double bill with one more show in Toronto at Unit 102 Theatre tonight (Sat, Aug 20) at 8pm and 9:30 pm, respectively. Then, they’re off to the following cities/venues:

Thursday, August 25 at 8pm – Academic Hall, Ottawa, ON

Friday, August 26 at 8pm – Montreal Improv, Montreal, QC

Sunday, August 28 at 8pm – The Black Box Theatre, Fredericton, NB

September 2-11 – Atlantic Fringe Festival, Halifax, NS

You can keep up with all things Sex T-Rex on Twitter and Facebook.

Toronto Fringe: Post-apocalyptic mayhem and LOLs for days in hilarious, action-packed Wasteland

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Sex T-Rex is back at Toronto Fringe again with their own special brand of physical, film-inspired scripted comedy – this time, with Wasteland, directed by Alec Toller, running at the Randolph Theatre.

The world has been turned into a desert, complete with radioactive zones, a rebar forest and a mutant-infested mall. One glimmer of hope exists, though: The King (Josef Addleman) broadcasting rock ‘n roll from a radio station in Graceland – not a myth, but a life-saving mutant repellant. Over at the Compound, where Marshall (Seann Murray) is the Boss’s right-hand man, an unassuming janitor named Ernest (Conor Bradbury) is forced to make a choice. And he chooses Graceland. With his loyal, feisty sidekick Boy (Kaitlin Morrow) at his side, Ernest travels through dangerous territory and guts for days, pursued by Marshall and his gang. Their journey includes a stopover at the mutant-infested mall, where Professor Mulworth (Julian Frid) and his secret lab may be their last hope. In order to prevail, Ernest must become the hero even he never expected.

Drawing on movie lore from the likes of Mad Max and Tank Girl, the cast does a kick-ass job with the storytelling, which includes awesome fight scenes, car chases, inventive props, awesome puppetry and a rawkin’ soundtrack. Dark comedy abounds, with some surprising poignant moments and plot twists that will keep you laughing and on the edge of your seat. Plus, the show’s program includes a free, hand-drawn map of the Wasteland world.

Post-apocalyptic mayhem and LOLs for days in hilarious, action-packed Wasteland.

Wasteland continues at the Randolph Theatre, with two more performances tonight (Fri, July 8) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, July 9 at 12:00 p.m. For ticket info and advance tickets, check out the Fringe website.

Rootin’ tootin’, swashbuckling good time had by all at Sex T-Rex double feature Sex T-Rep

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Sex T-Rex opened its hilarious, action-packed Sex T-Rep at the Storefront Theatre to a full house last night, with a double feature line-up of Watch Out Wildkat! and Swordplay: A Play of Swords.

Sex T-Rex is: Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Kaitlin Morrow (co-producer), Seann Murray (co-producer) and Daniel Pagett; with director Alec Toller and stage manager Katherine Belyea.

Watch Out Wildkat! A classic tale of revenge in the wild west takes a supernatural turn as Wildkat (Morrow) sets out to kill the man that killed her Pa (Pagett). As she tracks the varmint down, she meets the Devil (Bradbury), who has a hold on her Pa. Forced to make a deal with the Devil to save her Pa’s soul, Wildkat becomes his hired gun as the two set off to hunt down Spider (Murray), who is threatening to usurp the Devil. And when you make a deal with the Devil… Add some hysterically inept prospectors (Bradbury, Frid, Murray and Pagett) and you got yerself some high noon, good, bad and ugly good ‘ole times.

The cast does an outstanding job with this cowboy adventure, with the whole gang playing multiple roles. As Wildkat, Morrow is a driven, ruthless and formidable fighter with both fists and gun, her singlemindedness is tempered only by her good heart and love for her Pa. Bradbury is hilariously devious as the shape-shifting, and oftentimes befuddled, Devil; a creature who loves the boozing and shenanigans, but not so happy to forced into some hard work in order to defeat his enemy. Murray is diabolical as Spider, a terrifying and cold presence, and unbeatable at the poker table; and he gives a great comedic turn as the toothless prospector Curly. Frid is a riot as the interrupting, poncho-wearing Lonesome Cowboy, the narrator of this tale; and Pagett is hysterical and the grinning, ineffectual star-hatted Sheriff.

Watch Out Wildkat! is a rootin’ tootin’, sharp shootin’ good time.

Swordplay: A Play of Swords. Video game meets The Princess Bride meets The Three Musketeers meets Game of Thrones meets every other swordy thing you’ve ever seen. When his beloved Princess Pimpernel (Morrow) is abducted by the evil Baron Thorne (Frid), fallen knight Barnabas (Bradbury) sets out to rescue her. With the assistance of brother in arms Salvatore (Murray), the two face great odds and, outnumbered, battle their way into the Baron’s stronghold. But the maiden in distress is not what she appears to be, and when the two knights come face to face with a former comrade, things really get bent. Sword fights, magic, vintage video game graphics and a dragon – and did I mention that it’s all framed in the present day, as Grandpa (Pagett) plays an old video game with his sick granddaughter (Morrow)?

Once again, the cast does an awesome job with the genre. As Barnabas, Bradbury is channeling Oliver Reed from The Three Musketeers; a haunted man struggling to carry on when he’s lost everything he held dear, but ultimately unwilling to give up the fight. Murray’s Salvatore is very Inigo Montoya, a passionate Spaniard and master swordsman, loyal to his friends and death to his enemies. Morrow’s Princess Pimpernel is a combination of Cersei and Daenerys; cunning and fierce, she is not as helpless as she appears. Frid is deliciously evil as the manipulative Baron Thorne and later – as an even more dangerous foe to our intrepid heroes, using magic and fire to confound and defeat all who stand in his path. And Pagett is hilarious as the warm-hearted, smart-ass Grandpa – taking a page from Peter Falk’s book – and the neglected, put-upon servant Igor, a man of low self-esteem who just needs a kind word now and again.

Swordplay: A Play of Swords is a swashbuckling, magical trip of camaraderie, good vs. evil an old-school gaming.

Both shows draw inspiration from pop culture, genre film and TV, and a child-like sense of fun – and the playful, imaginative storytelling, and use of props and cinematic staging adds to the laugh out loud good times.

But wait – there’s more! Popcorn, booze, awesome Sex T-Rex merch (including gatch) and super friendly folks. And the program includes fun and handy cowboy and swordplay quote generators!

A rootin’ tootin’, swashbuckling good time was had by all at Sex T-Rex double feature Sex T-Rep.

Sex T-Rep continues to March 27 at Storefront Theatre. It’s an intimate space and a very popular company, so advance booking is strongly recommended. Book tix online; both shows run every night, and you can book one show for $20 or both for $30.