Toronto Fringe: Delightful fable-inspired storytelling in magical, thoughtful Curious Contagious

curious_contagious_picture_2I first saw Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail perform Against Gravity two years ago at SummerWorks – and loved it – so I was excited to see that they were coming to Toronto Fringe this year to perform Curious Contagious in the Factory Theatre Mainspace. I caught their opening show yesterday afternoon. Mind of a Snail is Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner.

Curious Contagious is a surreal, fable-inspired tale of a virus’s journey through a unicorn’s body. *SPOILER ALERT* Unicorn dreams of building a Donut Palace and just as the dream appears to be realized, construction is delayed when Unicorn contracts a puzzling illness after being bitten by an Amphibian on the build site. The virus’s life inside Unicorn is almost a play within the play, and includes entertaining narration courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood Arrow. Unicorn visits the Doctor, but traditional medicine cannot stop the virus, so the Doctor must resort to surgery – and Unicorn loses its horn. In an interesting moment of discovery, Amphibian introduces Unicorn to a mysterious, shaman-like Creature who lives underground at the building site and who now has possession of Unicorn’s horn. The Creature strikes a bargain with Unicorn to give the horn back – and the Unicorn must choose between its dream of building a business and its most beloved body part.

A beautiful and inspiring piece of visual storytelling, Curious Contagious uses shadow puppetry, live action movement and original music; and is suitable for all ages and accessible for non-English speakers. Gabriel and Ziner’s work is innovative and engaging, featuring quirky fun performances and mad puppetry skills. Part art, part theatre and part infotainment, it’s a thought-provoking commentary on viral illness and environmental responsibility.

Delightful fable-inspired storytelling with an environmentally friendly sensibility in magical, thoughtful Curious Contagious.

Curious Contagious continues at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

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Fabulous time as Panto Players milk the big panto fun in Jacques & the Bean Stock Market

Jacques-and-the-Bean-StockMarket2.3-longRed Sandcastle Theatre’s Panto Players opened their 5th annual holiday panto last week with a three-day pre-holiday run of Jacques and the Bean Stock Market, returning to the stage on Dec 26.

Written by Jane A. Shields and Rosemary Doyle, and directed by Jackie English, The Panto Players take us on a wild and wacky ride, with twists and turns, corny fun comedy bits, young audience participation, and music and dance breaks featuring re-worked pop favourites.

A retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, with a local modern-day twist, Jacques (Michael Postumus) is saddened when his mother Widow Twankey (Robert Keller) decides to sell the beloved family cow Buttons (Victor Pokinko), who’s producing some strange, undrinkable milk. Meanwhile, evil broker Ronald Bump (Taran Beaty), his business partner Harpy Golden (Matthew Donovan) and lawyer the Cheshire Cat (English) scheme to get Twankey to sell them her cottage property so they can build their next condo project. Add to that mix some Irish river dancing/Mexican jumping beans (Kristen Foote and Doyle, the two multi-tasking actors in this production) and you have hilarious good times, with a fun twist or two.

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Top (l to r): Michael Postumus, Robert Keller, Matthew Donovan, Victor Pokinko & Taran Beaty  Bottom (l to r): Rosemary Doyle, Jackie English & Kristen Foote – in Jacques & the Bean Stock Market – photo by Burke Campbell

Jacques and the Bean Stock Market features a delightful, hard-working cast – with several familiar faces from pantos past. Perennial favourites Beaty and English are back, with Beaty putting the “I” in “Evil” as the notorious bad guy Ronald Bump, the consummate money-grubbing, grasping corporate bad guy; and English returning as everyone’s favourite pink cat, but the wily, cocky feline has gone over to the dark side this year as Bump’s scheming and scamming lawyer. But darn it, you still can’t help but adore that candy floss-coated Cheshire Cat. Must be that cock-eyed smirk. And there are multi-character performances from Doyle, who starts off as a winsome pony, standing outside the door of the theatre, inviting folks to see the show, and served as a marvelous last-minute back-up as a Roadie and a Bean. Pokinko and Donovan (who were part of the Sleepy Beauty cast last year) return to the Panto Players this year. Pokinko is hilariously deadpan as the wry-witted and world-weary, but inevitably lovable cow Buttons; and Donovan is adorkable as Bump’s bow tie-wearing, put-upon business partner Harpy Golden; not content as Bump’s sidekick, he dreams of forming a boy band.

Joining this year’s rowdy good times are a few new faces. Postumus does a hysterical job with Jacques, a not too bright, but big-hearted lad with boy band hair and a German accent. Keller’s Widow Twankey is a sharp-witted, cunning dame with a fierce fashion sense and some fine Joan Collins-esque moments. And Foote (multi-tasking along with Doyle) is a treat, especially as one of the multicultural beans, an airy-fairy interpretive dancer who needs no excuse – or official venue – to perform her expressive art.

Shouts to the entire cast for juggling text, improv, audience participation, songs and choreography, as well as showcasing some fine musician chops in performances by Beaty (guitar), English (drums) and Donovan (trombone). Stand-outs: the “Definition” dance break/corny joke bits and Buttons’ rap.

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Rosemary Doyle as the winsome pony, working box office – photo by Burke Campbell

And big shouts to super busy Red Sandcastle A.D. Doyle for the always enjoyable and imaginative costumes and set (in addition to the million other jobs she does at the theatre), and the company’s intrepid stage manager Deborah Anne Frankel for keeping the rowdy fun all together.

It’s a fabulous time at Red Sandcastle Theatre as The Panto Players milk the big panto fun for kids of all ages in Jacques and the Bean Stock Market.

Jacques and the Bean Stock Market are on break for the holiday – and back up and running Dec 26 – Jan 2; check the show page for show times (or check out the dates/times in the poster image above). For advance tix, call: 416-845-9411 – otherwise, best get there early, as it’s an intimate space and a popular show. Cash only at the box office.

Side note for the grown-ups: (This comes from an exchange I witnessed between parents at yesterday’s matinee; I debated on mentioning it, but thought that there was something we could learn here.) Be prepared for LOLs and excited, noisy children – it’s a panto, so the audience is encouraged to cheer the hero and boo the villain. Some kids may get especially excited and boisterous – and if you feel a child is being over-exuberant in his/her participation, please try to be understanding. If you must speak to another parent about their child’s behaviour, please do so respectfully (without ganging up on them and out of earshot of the child), exercise compassion and tolerance, and try to avoid making assumptions. Everyone is there to have fun, so let’s be kind to each other.

Big shiny panto fun with Panto Players’ Sleepy Beauty @ Red Sandcastle Theatre

Sleepy-Beauty-Star-CorrectedSheets and coloured fabric, plus some artfully custom cut tape and green felt, become castle walls and turrets, and an enchanted forest. All part of the magic and imagination at Red Sandcastle Theatre – in this case, for the Panto Players’ production of Sleepy Beauty – The Tale of the Narcoleptic Princess and Her Cat.

Written by Jane A. Shields and Red Sandcastle A.D./impressaria Rosemary Doyle, and directed by Jackie English, this modern-day retelling of the beloved fairy tale features a sparkling, multi-talented ensemble cast and a head boppin’, toe tappin’ series of pop tunes tailored for the show.

Three fairies (Matthew Donovan, Victor Pokinko and Brenda Somers) attending a christening for Princess Suzie come up with a plan to thwart the evil machinations of bad fairy Malefolent (Taran Beaty), softening the curse set upon the infant, tasking a remarkable pink cat (English) with looking after her, then finding a prince (Andy Ingram) to break the sleeping spell that bewitches a teenage Suzie (Rebecca Perry).

The fairies are a treat: Donovan is all heart and southern gentility, with a touch of befuddlement and insecurity, as Twankey Fairy; Pokinko is fabulously dapper and entertaining as woodland Fairy of the Trees Algonquin (but you can call him Al); and Somers is a ball of blue fun as the sharp-witted, colourful-haired Fairy of the Lake. Perry is adorably precocious as Princess Suzie (also doing double duty as the hilariously doting Queen) and has an impressive set of pipes; and Ingram is wonderfully goofy as the handsome, but dim-witted, Prince Joe (and gives a comic turn as the King). Beaty is chock full of evil comedic deliciousness as the jealous and vengeful horned fairy Malefolent. And English is a delight as everyone’s favourite wry-witted pink cat with a French accent.

All the shenanigans kept running by Doyle (wearing many hats, including box office, lighting FX and palace guard) and SM Deborah Ann Frankel, Sleeping Beauty features colourful, striking costuming (designed by Doyle, who also did the set) and catchy, fun tunes borrowed from pop – lyrics rewritten for the show – like “Wake Up, Little Suzie,” “Can’t Touch This,” and “Celebration,” and from artists like Katy Perry and ZZ Top. And the entire cast transforms into a band, rockin’ out on “Call Me Al” – with Beaty on guitar, Donovan on trombone and Pokinko on keys.

Sleepy Beauty is a big shiny panto good time for kids of all ages.

Sleepy Beauty continues its run at Red Sandcastle Theatre until Jan 4, including 2 p.m. matinees (Dec 28 and 31, Jan 3 and 4) and 7 p.m. shows (Dec 29 and 30, Jan 2 and 3).

SummerWorks: Spellbinding, trippy good times in Against Gravity

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Mind of a Snail: Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner

One of the things I love about SummerWorks is the unique multi-media and multi-disciplinary work it features. I had the great pleasure of seeing Mind of a Snail’s Against Gravity last night – on at the Theatre Passe Muraille back space.

Mind of a Snail is a duet of fun gals from Vancouver: Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel. Against Gravity is part shadow puppetry, part live music, part human-generated sound effects, part clowning – an all big fun for kids of all ages!

Gabriel mostly handles the puppetry – in this case, using an overhead projector and transparencies (in some cases, using multiple transparencies to create cool animation effects) – and even becomes a shadow puppet of sorts herself. Ziner mostly handles the music and sound effects, using electric guitar and looping to create character and atmosphere. And the audience is welcomed – and encouraged – to create sound effects too!

The story in Against Gravity is an entertaining adventure of discovery and following one’s heart – but warns against letting your heart become imprisoned by emotions once you catch up with it.

Against Gravity is a spellbinding, trippy good time, with excellent work from Ziner and Gabriel. The show runs until Sat, Aug 16. Check here for date/time details.

You can also find Mind of a Snail on Facebook – and check out the Against Gravity trailer vid:

Department of Corrections: In the original version of this post, Ziner’s and Gabriel’s roles were reversed; this has been corrected.