Gripping family drama in American dream turned nightmare – Killcreek

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Killcreek cover – art by Jennifer Hosein

Brandon Pitts’ new play Killcreek, recently published by IOWI and directed by Katherine E. Bignell, opened its Toronto Fringe run at the Randolph Theatre last night.

In Killcreek, a fictitious 1950s Montana mining town, miners have been laid off and are scrambling to earn what living they can with alternate employment. Brother and sister Daryl and Maddy, orphaned when their father was killed in a mining accident, live in the family home along with Maddy’s husband (and Daryl’s high school friend) Rick. They’re managing, but just barely, and Daryl’s alcoholism is both a source of emotional and financial tension in the household. Daryl is trying – going to AA meetings – but struggles with frustration and resentment, having been forced into the role of father and mother to his younger sister at a young age. A glimmer of hope appears as a new vein of gold is discovered in the mine, even as the family learns that their financial troubles are more serious than they thought. Will love and family be enough?

Bignell has a fine cast for Killcreek. As the siblings, Dan Cristofori’s Daryl is tortured and conflicted, longing to leave Killcreek, but tethered to the town by family loyalty and an inability to change his life, wearing his resentment as a giant chip on his shoulder; and Angela C. Brown’s Maddy is the lovely, gentle, positive force of the house, forced into the role of peacemaker in Daryl and Rick’s strained relationship. Romaine Waite is both solid and passionate as Rick, a good, hard-working man and loving husband, willing to return to his job in the mine despite the risks. Chris Leveille brings a nice, supportive warmth to Daryl’s AA sponsor Mike, while Cheryl Bain elicits under-the-breath mutterings of both the “c” and “b” words from the audience as the pinched, money-grubbing mine owner (and Maddy’s employer) Mrs. Cranston. Dan Smallman does a nice job juggling multiple roles as the union boss, AA chair and bartender (the latter giving off a creepy vibe akin to the bartender in The Shining), and kudos to double-duty actors/ASMs Jessica McQueen and Violet Backwell for their work as AA members and miners, executing the scene changes with 50s music and Amos and Andy radio sketches playing in the background – a nice touch that was both evocative of the period and practical to fill time for scene/costume changes.

Pitts has written a period piece that both moves and resonates today, where the American dream has turned nightmare, and the greed of the wealthy further exacerbates the economic/class divide with the working class, who are barely scraping by, in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure and, in this case, willing to risk their lives for a paycheque. The stark realism of a family struggling in the face of ruin, with a character desperately lost in a battle with his own demons and alcohol, has a ring of Eugene O’Neill to it.

Killcreek continues its Fringe run at the Randolph Theatre until Sunday, July 14. Click here for exact dates and times.

Cover art for the published edition of Killcreek by artist Jennifer Hosein.

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It’s almost that time, kids — Toronto Fringe Festival is coming!

So how did it get to be the last week of June already?! Good news is that means that we’re about a week away from the Toronto Fringe Festival, running July 3-14.

Here’s a handful of shows I’m planning on seeing, with more to come:

Just Lift Your Feet, by Heather Allin  (stay tuned for my interview with actor/playwright Heather Allin on her one-woman show Just Lift Your Feet)

Killcreek, by Brandon Pitts

Stop Kiss, by Diana Son

We Are The Bomb, by Kat Sandler/Theatre Brouhaha

A Young Lady’s Guide to Vivisection, by Empty Box Company

What will you be seeing at Fringe this year?

Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir launch @ Q Space – fun, sexy & smart

Writer/poet/horror aficionado/editor Lizzie Violet launched her brand new monthly cabaret – Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir – at Q Space last night. And what a fun, sexy and thought-provoking night it was.

The cabaret premiere included feature performers Mullet the Clown, David Bateman and Kat Leonard, as well as a very talented line-up of open mic folks. Music, comedy, spoken word, poetry, a zombie clown telling stories and performing card tricks – it was a mix of the ridiculous and the sublime, visceral and cerebral, personal and political, as these talented artists took the stage. Q Space is a casual, intimate, welcoming storefront place, with a cool, eclectic and creative group of folks – and it’s the perfect home for the cabaret as friends, fellow artists and neighbourhood peeps gather to support some incredible local talent.

Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir will be a monthly event, the second Sunday of the month, and will feature music, vaudeville, comedy, burlesque, poetry and open mic performances. The next cabaret is set for Sunday, April 14 (7 – 10 p.m) – with feature artists author/poet Brandon Pitts, music by Cry Wolf (Jess McAvoy and Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot), and burlesque performer Bella Fox. Come on by, get yourself a beer or a latte – and enjoy.

Because this is Cabaret Noir, I decided to do this batch of pics in black and white.

Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 006
Tash Jolly (aka Super Tash) performs some spoken word
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 003
Duncan Armstrong
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 008
Brenda Clews
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 011
Vanessa McGowan performs “On other Chunks” from her book Divine Cockeyed Genius
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 019
Feature performer Mullet the Clown tells us a story
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 024
Host Lizzie Violet reads “Chlamydia is not a Flower!”
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 035
Feature performer Kat Leonard performed 3 new songs, as well as some Depper Love favourites
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 025
Feature performer David Bateman reads some short creative non-fiction
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 039
Philip Cairns
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 041
Norman Allen
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 044
Brandon Pitts
Cabaret Noir launch Mar 10 045
Feature performers (left – right) Mullet the Clown, David Bateman, Kat Leonard & host Lizzie Violet

The Beautiful & the Damned – the Day of the Dead edition

Last night’s edition of The Beautiful and the Damned was dedicated to the Day of the Dead, with featured dead celeb Frida Kahlo – hosted by the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet, who introduced the evening’s features and open mic artists, as well as exercising our minds with trivia about Kahlo. The Art Gallery of Ontario has an upcoming exhibit of Kahlo and Rivera’s work, opening October 20: http://www.ago.net/frida-diego-passion-politics-and-painting

Philip Cairns: hilarious poems about friends – quirky, loved, neurotic, former fuckbuddy, male, female, depressive, bipolar, a love of ugly Fendi bags and a nod to Gordon Pinsent.

Mark Martyre: usually a musician, read some poetry – internal, reflective, self-deprecating even, bravely breaking out of his comfort zone.

Devin Edwards: existential flow of consciousness poetry, at times erotic, sensuous, everyday intimacy – “the heat of a toilet seat” – and a sonnet of loss, love and pain.

Host Lizzie Violet read her piece “Corpse Flower” – Louisiana bayou vampire slayer child, once thought to have murdered her parents becomes the local savior against the Nosferati that hunt her town. Saving the townspeople is incidental to exacting vengeance for her parents’ deaths. Later, reading “Chaos among the Ruins,” one of a series of zombie-themed poems – a pursued woman, hidden in the shell of a building, watches the creatures outside. Horrific, agonizing memories of the child she couldn’t save from them even as she saved herself. Until she walks out from her hiding place…

Feature performer, poet Duncan Armstrong: Dark, funny, visceral and sensuous pieces. Darkly funny titles; Stratford road trip, an eerie but intimate ode to the colour of eyes becoming a study of the red of sherry, blood, bruises; mysterious bite marks; the fate of a sugar maple reflecting the fall of a marriage; cell phone found on the subway ringing in a sob-filled phone call; slam style rhythmic, fast-paced, moving; Robert Johnson-inspired blues, selling one’s soul to the devil “Everything to live for and nothing to lose;” the mystery of vampires looking so good, yet casting no reflection; “Full Moon” regarding the fate of children entering a haunted house and never seen again.

Brandon Pitts: metaphysical, Mesopotamian, existential, erotic piece – sexual, religious, sacred and profane. Profane in the sacred.

Melissa Benner: spoken word piece “Out” to acknowledge National Coming Out Day – love at first sight among the bok choi at the grocery store; sexy, honest, sweet, real. Sexual fluidity, attraction goes its way.

Tom Smarda: poetry and music – political, social, lyrical, passionate, activism in art. A folk balladeer with a heartfelt protest song – a mother’s loss of her son to the war.

Feature Monica Kuebler: reading from her web story Bleeder – Chapter 6. First-person narrative finding our heroine, who may or may not be human, in the clutches of vampires, brought before the vampire king. Struggling, injured, fighting to keep her head together. Uncertain of her fate. http://www.bleederbook.com/?tag=monica-s-kuebler

Stedmond Pardy – reading/performing “Ode to Liza Minnelli” – moving with the rhythm of the words, celebrity religion, ode, love, obsession, masturbatory glee. “You have no fucking equal. To you dear there could never be a sequel.”

Lucille Barker – powerful words coming from such a small frame; poems about death, dead women poets, wry political commentary.

Feature L’Rock brought a rockin’ acoustic set, offering a sample of tunes from her Law of Attraction CD. Rawkin’ drivin’ vocals that would make Annie Wilson proud. Passionate, free-spirited tunes – the title track was my fave. Accompanied by Nik Beat on guitar and Michael Ratt on bass. http://www.lrockmusic.com/

Another fabulous evening of music, poetry and spoken word upstairs at the Glad Day Bookshop, where I also picked up a copy of Born This Way – Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, a selection of childhood photographs and coming out stories from the blog of the same name, created by Paul Vitagliano.  Here’s the link to the blog site: http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.ca/

All in all, an incredible, inspiring way to spend the evening on National Coming Out Day.

Lucille Barker
Stedmond Pardy
Monica Kuebler
Tom Smarda
Melissa Benner
Brandon Pitts
Duncan Armstrong
Devin Edwards
Mark Martyre
Philip Cairns
Lizzie Violet
L’Rock

Incredible feature performers & open mic artists on a night of words & music @ The Beautiful & the Damned

Another night of incredible poetry, spoken word and music at the September edition of The Beautiful and the Damned on Thursday night, in its new home upstairs at Glad Day Bookshop.

Host DM Moore got our brains cooking on trivia questions (for prizes!) on this month’ s dead celeb, Gore Vidal, during three amazing sets of artistry, while event co-founder Duncan Armstrong worked the beverage service/merch table. As usual, so I can get everyone included in the post, I like to free associate on this event…

Marcie Rogers told a devilishly fun, sexy and visceral fairytale of a demon in disguise, on the prowl for an angel.

Felicia Guy Lynch served up some rap rhythm words and got the audience in on it – “You Should Know.”

Jeff Cottril made me laugh so much, I almost forgot to take his picture. Hysterical, ironic and real poem “Apology” – and I think I’m dubbing him as the stand-up poet.

Feature artist, poet Jacob Scheier, read some beautifully crafted pieces from his collection More To Keep Us Warm – at times intense, grotesque, grim, angst-ridden and funny, as well as reminiscences of his NYC Jewish family roots, a three-part Occupy Wall Street piece, and images of Constantine and The Seagull. This spring, ECW press is launching his next volume, Letter from Broadway. http://www.jacobscheier.com/

Alec Butler read a selection from his novella, sharing struggles of coming out as queer and trans, family abuse, recalling the vandalism of the Pieta, navigating queer politics as a trans person – “I’m still confusing people – and people don’t like to be confused.” Candid, brave and good-humoured.

Brandon Pitts performed a piece from his collection The Pressure to Sing – biblical, political, raw and rhythmic.

Duncan Armstrong read his poem “You and Whose Army?” – hilarious, political, one-upsmanshipping, making fun of homophobes and slut shamers, biting, irreverent and sexy.

Feature performer David Bateman gave us a haiku about a beautiful but vacuous man, the laugh-out-loud funny “Crocodile Cock” (an ode to hemipenes), cats names changed from Tabby and Puss to Caspian and Euphrates in a darkly funny break-up poem, a remembrance of mother’s china cabinet, a shout out to Marshall McLuhan – with a decidedly unusual and sexy alternate use for a vacuum cleaner “You are screwing a vacuum cleaner. You have no conscience.” – and an ode to Canadian Tire.

Sam Kay offered up a lyrical, romantic folk ballad, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar – song from his dad “Rachael’s Song.”

Lucille Barker read a poem about the life of the 99% as seen through the eyes of a six-year-old witnessing day-to-day family hardship, bright young eyes still able to see past the negative.

Kenn Chaplin, author of the blog My Journey with AIDS, gave us images of crisp, cool colours, a snapshot of a cottage on Lake Simcoe, then recalling the final moments of a dear friend’s life – the everyday becoming a surreal montage as those who survive continue their lives. http://myjourneywithaids.wordpress.com/

Alanna Cook – sweet and saucy haikus and a short poem, smart and sexy.

Final feature of the night, singer/songwriter Jessica Speziale, dubbed a “pop rock poet” by a Bracebridge newspaper, gave us a sweet, soulful, at times driving, acoustic guitar/vocal set – selections from her EP Dear Reverie, including my personal fave, the award-winning “Turn Me On.” A delight to watch, as well as inspiring – she recently recorded “How To Be A Man” for We Are One, a compilation of artists supporting Nellie’s and Amnesty Canada. http://www.jessicaspeziale.com/

Marcie Rogers
Felicia Guy Lynch
Jeff Cottrill
Jacob Scheier
Alec Butler
Brandon Pitts
Duncan Armstrong
David Bateman
Sam Kay
Lucille Barker
Kenn Chaplin
Alanna Cook
Jessica Speziale

Sweet & hilarious romcom-flavoured journey – One Night

Fringe adventures began this afternoon at the George Ignatieff Theatre (GIT) when I met up with pals Kat, Lizzie, Janis, Laurie and playwright Brandon Pitts to see One Night  – co-written by Pitts and actor Angela Brown.

To say that One Night is just a romcom would be missing the point, but wouldn’t be entirely untrue either. Directed by Shaista Latif, One Night tells the story of a plus-sized woman’s journey to overcome low self-esteem and make her own way in the world despite societal and familial pressures and expectations.

Latif has assembled an amazing, funny cast for this story of Penny (Angela Brown), a smart, good-humoured single plus-sized woman who works transcribing medical notes but longs to be a chef. Barraged by invasive, sabotaging phone calls from her mother and pestered by her crazy cat lady co-worker Cassandra (Tanya Filipopoulos), and bolstered by her pals Julie (Sangeeta Wylie) and Oksana (Rachel Moase, who also voices Penny’s mum), Penny manages to navigate life with grace under pressure.

But Penny has had it with her virgin status. She meets sloppy drunk Dean (Chris Leveille) and handsome player Troy (Nick Stojanovic) in Hank’s (Sean Delville) bar – and both men hit on her. Maybe a one-night stand is just the ticket. After accepting Troy’s number, she doesn’t call – but with some well-meaning interference from Oksana, ends up inviting Troy over for dinner.

In collaboration, Brown and Pitts write women really well. And Penny is no shrinking violet damsel in distress here – she is a strong, intelligent woman in the process of finding the courage to overcome personal obstacles and realize her dreams.

Excellent performances all around, with a lovely playful girlfriend vibe to the girls’ nights out at the bar and Penny’s home, with Wylie’s level-headed Julie a perfect foil for Moase’s playful vamp Oksana. Leveille is hilarious as the drunken would-be Romeo Dean, while Stojanovic oozes sex and charm – and even sweetness – as Troy. And Delville is fabulous as the classic wise-cracking bartender Hank. Additional voice work was provided by Ahsan Mogul (also the stage manager for the production) for Penny’s meditation CD.

The greatest romance in this play is the one Penny finds in herself. She’s worth it.

One Night continues its run at the GIT until July 15. For scheduling, visit the Fringe site: http://fringetoronto.com

Brandon Pitts reading @ Art of the Danforth

Okay, so back to the work and big fun of blogging about cool arts, culture and entertainment stuff around Toronto.

Voces Poeticas: Music & Poetry in Motion

Yesterday, I had a date with one of my ladies – the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet – to go hear Brandon Pitts read at Art of the Danforth. Toronto was having another heat wave day – hot, but not too sticky – and we were very happy to find a spot in the shade at the outdoor venue adjacent to the TCHC apartment building on the south side of Danforth, just east of Greenwood. We got there a bit early, so had the added pleasure of catching some music and song from Voces Poeticas: Music and Poetry in Motion. Thanks to Lizzie for the pics!

Brandon Pitts

I’ve seen Brandon Pitts read once before – at The Beautiful and the Damned at Zelda’s a couple of months ago – and it was so good to have the opportunity to hear him do a solo read, with a longer set, on the closing day of Art on the Danforth. He read mostly from Pressure to Sing, a collection of his poems that got published last year, and treated us to some new pieces as well. And when I say “read,” it wasn’t so much reading as performing – often by memory – his voice and body moving and shifting along with the rhythms of his words.

Pitts’ work is visceral, political, irreverent, historical, biblical, romantic, vulgar and lyrical. And you really need to hear those words and rhythms, so I’m going to shut up now and leave you with this YouTube vid of one of my favourite Brandon Pitts poems – “Lot” which appears in Pressure to Sing:

What words move you?