Crazy LOL love & the power of the perfect joke in the quirky, poignant, hilarious The Clean House

Annemieke Wade, Neil Silcox, Andrea Irwin, Lilia Leon & Marina Moreira in The Clean House—photo by Bruce Peters

 

Love isn’t clean… It’s dirty. Like a good joke.

Alumnae Theatre Company closes its 2016-17 season with Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, directed by Ali Joy Richardson, assisted by Nevada Banks; currently running on the Mainstage.

Still in mourning over her parents’ unusual and unexpected death, Matilde (Marina Moreira) moves from Brazil to Connecticut, where she becomes a live-in maid to doctors Lane (Andrea Irwin) and Charles (Neil Silcox). Thing is, she hates cleaning; it makes her sad. An aspiring comedian, and the child of two very funny people, she’s striving for the perfect joke. Things lighten up for Matilde when Lane’s older sister Virginia (Annemieke Wade) makes an odd request: she wants to clean her sister’s house. Virginia loves to clean and needs something to do, and Matilde hates cleaning and needs more time to make up jokes—so they make a secret arrangement.

When Virginia and Matilde discover women’s underwear in the laundry that can’t possibly be Lane’s, they suspect that Charles is having an affair. Their suspicions are soon validated when it comes out that Charles has fallen in love with Ana (Lilia Leon), who was one of his surgical patients. From there, Charles’ two worlds collide in unexpected—often moving and hilarious—ways.

There’s a great theatricality to The Clean House, with cultures and lives meeting in delightfully wacky and quirky ways. All of Matilde’s jokes are told in Portuguese; and all the characters break the fourth wall at various points to speak to the audience directly. Scenes happening elsewhere play out in and around the pristine, white living room. There’s a space for projected surtitles at the top of the bookshelf, which don’t provide translation of Portuguese, but subtext for the proceedings. On the raised platform playing area down left, we see flashbacks and imagined scenes play out (with Silcox and Leon also playing Matilde’s parents), as well as scenes on Ana’s apartment balcony (shouts to Orly Zebak’s set design).

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Marina Moreira in The Clean House—photo by Bruce Peters

Fantastic work from the ensemble on this journey. Moreira is a treat as Matilde, the maid who longs to be a comedian, and who bears witness to the topsy-turvy events unfolding in her employers’ household. Feisty and determined, and despite her sadness over her parents’ death, Matilde’s mind is laser-focused on concocting the perfect joke—but, knowing the power of such a thing, she fears the impact it may have.

Irwin is hysterically imperious as the uptight Lane; a well-respected doctor in a hospital, her tightly wound fastidiousness isn’t without its own quirks—while she feels entitled to have someone cleaning her house, she’s uncomfortable giving orders about it. Wade is a riot as Lane’s sister Virginia; neurotic and compulsively fixated on cleanliness, housekeeping is her happy place. Though Virginia is sick and tired of Lane’s attitude, she’s nevertheless a loving and supportive sister. It’s family, so you deal.

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Neil Silcox & Lilia Leon in The Clean House—photo by Bruce Peters

Silcox is adorably goofy as Charles; a surgeon with the heart of a poet and a dreamer, he found he couldn’t help but fall in love—Ana is his soulmate, so it’s out of his control. Sweet and loyal in his way, he struggles to make this transition as amicable as possible for everyone involved. Leon has a lovely, almost ethereal quality as Ana; strong-willed and outspoken, Ana has never liked doctors, but couldn’t help herself with Charles. And she’s bound and determined that the path her life takes be of her own choosing.

Crazy LOL love and the power of the perfect joke in the quirky, poignant, hilarious The Clean House.

The Clean House continues in the Alumnae Mainspace until April 22; advance tix available online or available at the box office one hour before show time (cash only). This production features some free pre- and post-show events, including:

Pre-show workshop Thurs, April 20: Laughter and Forgiveness with Lynn Himmelman. Lynn will lead participants through a few fun, simple exercises and share the healing role that laughter has played in her own life. This complimentary pre-show workshop offers audiences the opportunity to further explore The Clean House’s themes of healing and the power of comedy.

Check out the trailer for The Clean House courtesy of Neil Silcox & Ali Joy Richardson:

Coming up for Alumnae Theatre: Look out for Alumnae’s 2017-18 season, when the company will be celebrating its 100th birthday; the oldest women-run theatre in North America and the oldest theatre company in Toronto.

 

 

 

New Ideas Festival: Heart beats, blue feels & the big sleep in trippy, darkly funny Week Three program

Alumnae Theatre Company continues its 2017 edition of the New Ideas Festival (NIF) with a trippy, darkly funny Week Three program, the final week of the fest. The annual festival includes three weeks of short new plays and full-length readings, including four plays and one reading each week, running in the Studio space.

Beat by Dale Sheldrake, directed by Josh Downing. Alone and injured following a near fatal car crash, Evelyn 1 (Jackie Mahoney) is beside herself, as she listens to her heart/inner voice (Evelyn 2: Laurel Schell). Taking stock of her life as she waits for help to arrive, she’s forced to face her inner demons and addictions. Darkly funny, sharp and theatrical; with some lovely spoken word dialogue and strong performances from Mahoney and Schell.

The Ballad of Sadie Wong by Andrew Lee, directed by Cassidy Sadler. Film noir detective story meets modern-day romance when day-dreamy, chipper bookstore clerk Althea (Remi Long) meets volatile, melancholy barista/punk rocker Sadie (Liz Der). Their sharp-witted, fun dynamic goes dark when Althea becomes concerned about how far Sadie will go to reach the top of the marquee. With the help of fictional Detective Ellesmere (Peter McArthur), Althea tries to solve Sadie’s mystery—but is Sadie beyond hope? Nice work from the cast; Long and Der have great chemistry, especially with the punchy dime store detective novel banter.

Who Knocks? by Connie Guccione, directed by David Suszek.  An obituary for a high school classmate gets Rose (Sandra Burley) and Mary (Ruth Miller) thinking about death in this darkly funny look at aging and mortality. Great odd couple chemistry between Miller’s cynical, wise-cracking Mary and Burley’s gentler, good-humoured Rose.

The Hungriest Woman in the World by Shannon Bramer, directed by Claren Grosz. Struggling with ennui and identity, and longing for a way out—it’s through the looking glass for Aimee (Jeanine Thrasher). When her workaholic husband Rob (Armand Antony) refuses to join her for a night at the theatre, she goes off on her own. At the show, she befriends her seatmates, highly extroverted actors Nathan (Jamie Rose) and Julie (Jacqueline Verellen), and stays out all night. Bizarre shenanigans and darkly hilarious times ensue. Shout to the cast; great use of movement and farce-like comedy.

The Week Three program also includes a reading on Mar 25 at noon: Thistlepatch by Catherine Frid, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson.

Heart beats, blue feels and the big sleep in trippy, darkly funny Week Three program.

The NIF Week Three program continues until Mar 26 and closes the festival for this year; evening performances at 8p.m. and matinées at 2:30p.m., including talkbacks after the readings and the Saturday matinées. It’s an intimate space and a popular fest, so advance booking online or early arrival (box office opens one hour before show time—cash only) are strongly recommended.

 

 

New Ideas Festival: Attraction, secrets & brave new worlds in eclectic, insightful Week Two program

Alumnae Theatre Company continues its 2017 edition of the New Ideas Festival (NIF) with an eclectic Week Two program. The annual festival includes three weeks of short new plays and full-length readings, including four plays and one reading each week, running in the Studio space.

The Red Lacquered Box by Burke Campbell, directed by Lynn Weintraub. In this one-woman period drama, secretary Madame Gilles (Aleksandra Maslennikova) relates what she knows about the events leading up to the scandalous tragedy involving her employer Madame Tullée. Maslennikova’s Mme Gilles is a fastidious, bright-eyed charmer; a fine performance as she shifts between characters, including the dramatic, effervescent Mme Tullée and her suave, sophisticated lover Derek. What is the significance of that red lacquered box?

Parallax by Michelle Glennie, directed by Ara Glenn-Johanson. Brave new worlds collide in this hilarious, sharp tale of two pairs of friends/colleagues boldly going. Physicist/surgeon Marie Soleil (Melanie Leon) and Expos baseball star Rock (Duncan Rowe) have been selected to train as astronauts for a one-way trip to Mars; part of their mission will be to help populate the new Earth colony. Meanwhile, back in the 1660s, Louise (Wendy Fox) and Laura (Taylor Shouldice) are Filles du Roi, setting off aboard a ship to New France, to help populate the new French colony. What happens when these two pairs meet during an event in the space/time continuum has surprising results.

Y by Rosemary Doyle, directed by Sandra Cardinal. When Lyona (Sandi Globerman) invites Fyona (Alison Parovel), the daughter of close family friends who moved to England, for a visit, her sons George (Aury Barnett) and Henry (Taylor Bogaert) wonder what’s up. Family secrets emerge in a series of flashbacks, including Lyona’s husband Arthur (Barnett), and family friends Thomas (Bogaert) and Helen (Parovel). Actions reveal priorities in this intimate, at times funny, portrait of family and friendship dynamics.

Professionally Ethnic by Bobby Del Rio, directed by Rouvan Silogix. A sharply funny and insightful look at perceptions of diversity and inclusion in Canadian theatre. Young South Asian Canadian actor William (Ronak Singh) finds himself torn between landing a starring role with renowned white artistic director Gerrard (Rob Candy) and his conscience when the job requires that he become a stereotypical multicultural poster boy for the theatre company’s massive rebranding campaign. With a little help from his friends—best friend Kyle (Simon Bennett), who is white, and girlfriend Tracey (Chantel McDonald), a black equity PhD student—he’s reminded of who he really is. LOL problem-solving shenanigans ensue. Really nice work all around from the cast; especially funny is the nightmare presentation scene, where Gerrard and Tracey present their perceptions and findings of William’s situation.

The Week Two program also includes a reading on Mar 18 at noon: Who You Callin Black, Eh? by Rita Shelton Deverell, directed by Donald Molnar.

Attraction, secrets and brave new worlds in the New Ideas eclectic, insightful Week Two program.

The NIF Week Two program continues until Mar 19 and the festival continues to Mar 26; evening performances at 8p.m. and matinées at 2:30p.m., including talkbacks after the readings and the Saturday matinées. It’s an intimate space and a popular fest, so advance booking online or early arrival (box office opens one hour before show time—cash only) are strongly recommended.

 

 

New Ideas Festival: Connection, reflection & living with illness in thoughtful, funny Week One program

Alumnae Theatre Company opened the 29th New Ideas Festival (NIF) with a strong Week One program in its Studio space last night. The annual juried festival includes three weeks of short new plays and full-length readings, including four plays and one reading each week.

Call by Rosemary Doyle, directed by Rebecca Ostroff. A hilarious look at the never-ending hum of talking without communicating, set in a busy office environment where chatterbox Millennial receptionist Sandra (Jennifer-Beth Hanchar) is constantly in conversation with a friend in between fielding business calls. Frazzled HR Manager Laura (Shalyn McFaul) is unplugged on a meditation retreat, struggling to maintain silence and stay off electronic devices. Meanwhile, her skeezy colleague Mark (Andrew Batten, who also wrote a play, included in this week’s program) is covering for her at work, wreaking havoc in her absence with a laissez faire attitude and inappropriate remarks, including a hysterical comedy of errors over some texted photos. In a digital world, with so many devices to connect us, how connected are we really?

Or Not to Be by Andrew Batten, directed by Julia Haist. A heartfelt and genuine, at times funny, look at the Big Question. Thirty-two-year-old actor Ben (Arun Varma) contemplates his life in the big picture as he prepares to play Hamlet in a production directed by his best friend Sebastian (Jason Pilgrim). Putting on a brave face for the world, you’d never know he had a physical and emotional battle raging inside him; and he keeps much of this even from his loving and supportive wife Sarah (Jada Rifkin). Ben finds he must make some choices, no matter how much it hurts the ones he loves. Lovely work from the cast in this thoughtful examination of the meaning of life and death.

Teach Her My Name by Michael Kras, directed by Paige Foskett. A touching portrait of young couple Beth (Kate Schroder) and Andrew (Steven Pereira), new parents whose lives are changed forever when Beth, who lives with mental illness, assaults a woman at a bar. Now only able to see her baby during weekly visits, Beth is desperate to there for her daughter and worried she’s losing her husband. Andrew is doing his best, but is at his wit’s end working long hours and trying to be a father on his own, with the help of their parents. It’s not what they had in mind when they learned they were going to be parents; and Andrew can’t make Beth stay on her meds. How much can love take? A beautiful and intimate piece, with quiet moments full of repressed longing and disappointment.

D Cup by Alicia Payne, directed by Eilish Waller. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the women we meet at the mall lingerie store. When Peaches (Barbara Salsberg) leaves her elderly mother Mama (Margaret Sellers) with store clerk Lacey (Claudia Yang) to try on bras at the store while she goes to the washroom, Lacey realizes Peaches has been gone a long time. The highly discerning Candi (Kim Sprenger), a store regular, arrives and is put out that her favourite clerk called in sick. She is soon delighted by Mama, who has a knack for selecting the perfect bras for Candi. Friendships and revelations, and the deep connection between mothers and daughters, emerge in this charming dramedy.

Connection, reflection and living with illness in the thoughtful, funny New Ideas Week One program.

The Week One program also includes a reading on Saturday, March 11 at noon: Riverkeeper by Katherine Koller, directed by Rebecca Grace.

The NIF Week One program continues until March 12 and the festival continues to March 26; evening performances are at 8 p.m. and matinées are at 2:30 p.m., including talkbacks after the readings (noon on Saturdays) and the Saturday matinées. It’s an intimate space and a popular fest, so advance booking strongly recommended: get your advance tix online or arrive early at the box office (opens an hour before show time; cash only).

 

 

Rough & rowdy, it’s all guts & no glory in the funny, poignant, political The Gut Girls

They’re an unruly, foul-mouthed, hard-working, hard-drinking bunch ‘a gals—and their world is about to be turned upside down.

Alumnae Theatre starts off the New Year with its production of Sarah Daniels’ The Gut Girls, directed by Maya Rabinovitch. The Gut Girls is part of Alumnae’s Retrospective Series, leading up to its 100th anniversary next season.

The Gut Girls takes us to 1901, where the “gut girls” work in a gutting shed in the Foreign Cattle Market in Deptford, England. Paid good money, but working punishing hours in a foul environment—often up to their ankles in blood—it’s an offal job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Gut girls Polly (Alexandra Augustine), Ellen (Sarah Thorpe), Maggie (Kaya Bucholc) and Kate (Tasia Loeffler-Vulpe) take new girl Annie (Claire Keating) under their wing. Formerly in service, Annie found herself pregnant and fired, now living in a home for wayward women since the birth of her stillborn child—and finds friends, support and some new digs as she learns the ropes in the shed.

Enter do-gooder Lady Helena (Nicole Arends) with her friend Lord Edwin (Brendan O’Reilly) in tow. A self-appointed crusader for the downtrodden, especially working class women toiling in harsh conditions, she is instrumental in running a women’s club that teaches domestic skills and lady-like manners so women can transition into service. Through her friend Arthur (Mike Hogan), Lady Helena brokers an arrangement for the girls to be let off work an hour early on Thursdays, and garners the assistance of Arthur’s painfully shy wife Priscilla (Thorpe) to coax the girls to come to the club.

Hilarious times ensue, revealing class divisions and presumptions, as Lady Helena and Priscilla attempt to tame this wild group of young women. And when they learn that the sheds are to be shut down, their timing for training the women becomes all the more urgent—the gut girls are unemployable without new skills and ‘proper’ manners to recommend them. And the so-called gentlemen Edwin and Arthur prove to be not as gentlemanly as they appear, causing Maggie to quit the club and Priscilla to go on sick leave.

Struggling to learn new skills and find jobs, and with few prospects beyond the factories, pubs, service or the street, the gut girls have to take what they can get—and that means giving up their independence, dreams and even hope, in order to survive. Grimly circumspect about their situation, they’ve got the lady balls to take it, even though their hearts and spirits are broken.

Really lovely work from the ensemble, which shifts adeptly from comedy to drama throughout this compelling—not to mention timely—story. Augustine’s Polly is the roughest, toughest, biggest tomboy of the gang; she’s also a great jokester with a big heart. Thorpe (doing double duty as actor and co-producer) gives a strong, impassioned performance as Ellen, who tirelessly attempts to spread awareness of workers’ rights and the benefits of unionizing; as Priscilla, she blossoms from mousy wallflower to a caring and assertive mentor—a transformation that is quickly, and sadly, nipped in the bud by her bullying husband. Bucholc’s Maggie, like Polly, has a big heart under that devil-may-care attitude; a gut girl veteran, she’s supporting her mum and umpteen siblings—and must make a hard choice in order to keep life and limb together.

Loeffler-Vulpe’s Kate is a cheeky delight; one of the youngest gut girls, she’s an optimistic realist as she dreams big dreams and longs for a better life with her boyfriend Jim (O’Reilly). As new kid Annie, Keating gives us our introduction to the sights and smells of the gutting shed; formerly in a relatively comfortable job in service, Annie has first-hand experience of where ungentlemanly behaviour can put a young working class woman.

Arends is a formidable Lady Helena; on a single-minded mission to tame these rowdy young things into respectable young ladies, her lack of understanding and conditional respect for these women have unexpected, serious consequences. You know what they say about the road to hell. O’Reilly goes from clown to villain as Lord Edwin; a love-sick puppy following Lady Helena about, he turns his unwanted attentions to Maggie in a more forceful manner—with dire results for her. And he gives a sweet turn as Kate’s boyfriend Jim, who dreams of owning a toy shop. Hogan is an especially busy actor, playing four characters; notably the gruff gutting shed foreman Harry, barkeep Len (who has an eye on Maggie), and Priscilla’s controlling, devious husband Arthur.

With big shouts to the design team: Marysia Bucholc for the evocative, textured set (featuring scrubbed blood stains); Wendel Wray for the period costumes (especially the hats!); and Julie Skene for the entertaining period music (ranging from vaudeville to Scott Joplin).

Rough and rowdy, it’s all guts and no glory in the funny, poignant, political The Gut Girls.

The Gut Girls continues on the Alumnae Mainstage till February 4; for ticket info and online purchases, visit their website.

Special pre-show event in the lobby Jan 21 @ 6:45 pm: Prior to tonight’s performance, writer/performer and producer of the storytelling show Storystar Erin Rogers leads a group of storytellers as they relate tales of women’s and workers’ rights. Participants include Toronto-based writer, activist and social agitator Anne Thériault; United Church minister Evan Smith; and Seneca College and Second City storytelling instructor Sage Tyrtle.

Special pre-show event in the lobby Jan 26 @ 6:45 pm: President of United Steelworkers Local 8300 and the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council Carolyn Egan speaks about the rise of the labour movement and its impact on women in the workforce.

Photo by Ashley Elliot: Back – Nicole Arends. Front – Kaya Bucholc, Sarah Thorpe, Alexandra Augustine, Tasia Loeffler-Vulpe & Claire Keating

Stageworthy Podcast interview

Shortly before the holiday, I sat on the other side of the interview table with Phil Rickaby of Stageworthy Podcast as we chatted about theatre and the life with more cowbell blog. Thanks, Phil – I had a blast!

The interview is about an hour long; give it a listen here.

Photo by Lisa MacIntosh, taken outside Alumnae Theatre.

Courage, poetry & resilience. Final words & accounts of the 16 executed rebels in the moving A Terrible Beauty: Voices from 1916

irish-rising-post-office

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?

That is heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death.
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.

And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Whenever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Easter 1916, by W.B. Yeats

The Toronto Irish Players, as part of their commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Irish Rising, presented A Terrible Beauty: Voices from 1916, an evening of readings and music, assembled and directed by Lucy Brennan, on the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage last night.

The evening began with the Irish Proclamation of Independence, read at the top of the stairs near the entrance of the Mainstage before we were invited to enter and take our seats. What followed was a multimedia tribute of 1916 Rising film footage and photographs, and readings of words written by the 16, and accounts from their family, loved ones, attending priests and brothers in arms. All of this interspersed with a cappella music breaks, sung by a single male voice: Mise Eire (Sean Ó Riada), The Bold Fenian Men (Peadar Kearny), The Minstrel Boy (Thomas Moore) and A Nation Once Again (Thomas Davis); and including poetry by W.B. Yeats, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Mary Plunkett, as well as an introductory composition by director Lucy Brennan, and verbatim text of the last words and meetings in Kilmainham Jail, taken from Last Words.

With its dramatic readings of quotes, statements, and extracts from letters and speeches by and about the 16 leaders and executed rebels of the 1916 Irish Rising, A Terrible Beauty gives us a glimpse into the lives and dreams of those who were, in the words of the Proclamation (read on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin by Patrick Pearse on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916) fighting for an Ireland that “guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens and [which] declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.”

The 16 leaders and executed rebels included in the evening’s readings included the seven signatories of the Proclamation (Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas James Clarke, James Connolly, Seán MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse and Joseph Mary Plunkett) and nine other executed leaders (Roger Casement, Con Colbert, Edward Daly, Seán Heuston, Thomas Kent, John MacBride, Michael Mallin, Michael O’Hanranhan and William Pearse).

The ensemble did a lovely job with these deeply moving – at times tender, fierce and poetic – final words and first-hand accounts. The humanity and struggles of these men, and the sorrow of their family and those near to them coming to life on stage; the audience rapt in remembrance, responding with sounds of recognition, dismay, the occasional chuckle, and even humming or singing along with the songs. Kudos to the cast, in order of appearance (in some cases, playing multiple roles): Mark Whelan, Alan King, Nora Rafferty, Sheila DeCuyper, David Mackett, Jean Ireton, Danny Sullivan, James Phelan, Catherina Maughan, Alan Hunt, Mairead Clancy, Lucy Brennan, Davis Tyrell and Mark Hill. And thanks to the Toronto Irish Players and Lucy Brennan for the comprehensive and informative program notes.

Courage, poetry and resilience. Final words and accounts of the 16 executed rebels in the moving A Terrible Beauty: Voices from 1916.

A Terrible Beauty: Voices from 1916 was a one-night only event. You can catch the Toronto Irish Players as they continue their run of John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar, on the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage until Nov 5.

You can keep up with the Toronto Irish Players on Twitter and Facebook.