Toronto Fringe: Drowning in a small town in the haunting, lyrical Mourning After the Night Before

Models Abby Gillam, Ryan Helgason & Lauren Helgason. Photo by Chloë Whitehorn.

 

Mad River Theatre takes us to a small town by the water as a family struggles to overcome tragedy in Chloë Whitehorn’s haunting, lyrical Mourning After the Night Before; directed by Heather Keith and running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

Lucy (Mary Wall), Drew (Dave Martin) and their teenage daughter Pippa (Brianna Richer) have just arrived in a small town by the water to start a new life, their move assisted by local residents Everett (Jack Morton) and his guardian Fenwick (Loriel Medynski). Pippa is a troubled poet, surrendering the dark contents of her creative, intelligent mind onto paper. Lucy is feeling out of place in her own skin; and Drew, who feels so far away, just wants everyone to be okay. Everett is smitten with Pippa—and Lucy—and the attractions are mutual; and Fenwick’s just trying to keep it together as her adopted son, a reminder of the friend she loved, is on his way to manhood.

Nice work from the cast in this quiet, intimate, ethereal piece where everyday moments float by like leaves on water. Richer’s restless, introspective wild child is nicely balanced by a playful, creative spirit. Wall’s Lucy is part caged animal, part cougar on the hunt as she grapples with her identity as wife and mother and finds herself lacking. Martin’s Drew avoids the stereotypical frustrated, estranged husband; Drew is a hurt, gentle soul who genuinely cares and wants to help, but finds himself at a loss to do so. Morton’s Everett is an endearing combination of lusty youth, optimism and kindness as he navigates his way through the early stages of manhood. And Medynski brings a gentle wisdom to the frank, no-nonsense Fenwick, who’s dealing with both a past loss (Everett’s mother) and an impending loss of her own (Everett growing up).

I first saw an early, shorter version of the play at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival in 2018; and was happy to see its evolution. It combines everyday, intimate moments with poetry, and word play and introspection; woven with images and perspectives of water, the characters float around, dive into and drown in their lives as they grasp and gasp for connection, identity and meaning. The water almost becomes a sixth character here. And the minimalist set, incorporating black cubes to denote separate spaces in the story, places a focus on the words and characters as they glide in and out of moments, memories and musings. The result is a heightened realism that is both atmospheric and lyrical.

It is ironic that the family’s retreat to the peace and quiet of a small town forces a level of discomfiting introspection as each tries to anchor themselves within themselves and the world—a not so peaceful or quiet endeavour.

The Mourning After the Night Before continues at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 14; check the show page for exact dates/times and advance tickets.

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FireWorks Festival: Plotting cold, sweet revenge in the darkly funny, chilling The Pigeon

 

fwpigeon-big
Graphic design by Suzanne Courtney

Alumnae Theatre opened its annual FireWorks Festival of new works with a tale of unlikely partners and a plot for revenge against a common enemy in Chloë Whitehorn’s darkly funny, chilling The Pigeon—directed by Victoria Shepherd and assistant director Nicole Entin, and running in Alumnae’s Studio theatre.

 

Jegger (John Shubat), a tough-looking young man in black, and Malone (Liz Best), a prim, sharply dressed woman old enough to be his mother, have little in common—other than a common enemy and a decision to join forces to exact revenge, that is. Every day, they meet for lunch on a park bench to hatch their plan.

On the other side of Jegger’s life is his pregnant girlfriend Amy (Marina Gomes); and while Malone schools him on the fine art of vengeance, Amy has taken up educating him about babies. Excited and anxious about the prospect of being a father, Jegger starts to have second thoughts about the revenge plan. Malone has a back-up plan and he will be the messenger—and their relationship will never be the same.

Stellar, compelling performances from the cast in a series of two-hander scenes that play back and forth across the stage, from the park bench to Jegger and Amy’s apartment. Shubat and Best have a tight, razor-sharp rapport as Jegger and Malone; Shubat’s digital-age, sullen, socially aware Jegger and Best’s old-school, acerbic, “culturally insensitive” (i.e., racist) Malone are perfect foils and fine complements. These two characters met only recently and have relatively nothing in common other than a flair for detailed observation and mercurial wit—and an appetite for revenge, coincidentally for the same individual. Gomes’s bubbly, positive and protective Amy is the lighter side of Jegger’s relationships here, providing a sharp contrast to the tone of his relationship with Malone. Amy acts as Jegger’s conscience; and is instrumental in his decision to back out of the revenge plot as she seeks to intervene for the good of their future as a young family.

Over the course of 65 minutes, it’s a slow burn; the bubbles playfully popping to the surface until they reach a boiling point. It’s interesting to see the different aspects of Jegger’s personality that emerge with the two women. A stand-up guy in any case, he takes on a darker, more malevolent vibe with the bitter Malone, who brings out his rage; and a lighter and optimistic jam with the sweet Amy, who provides a safe place for him to unpack his hurt and vulnerability. It clearly troubles him when the dark seeps into the light—and while Jegger is happy to stay on board Malone’s scheme as a messenger, he has no idea what the message will be.

Last night’s post-show talkback featured sound designer/composer John Stuart Campbell, a long-time friend and colleague of Shepherd’s, who spoke about the process of incorporating music into a play. Campbell described music as “a howl at the moon” and an “emotional shorthand,” wherein the sound design/composition is informed by the text, and mindful in its respect for the actors and overall production design. Choosing from a tool box that includes picking an instrument for each character, everyday ambient sound recordings, writing themes for characters or incorporating popular music—with arrangements tailored to the production—Campbell creates a soundtrack that supports and highlights the action. In the case of The Pigeon, he decided to largely forego scene change music, given the flow of the play and split scene staging. He did, however, use an eerie version of On the Street Where You Live (vocals by Vivien Shepherd) to open the play, with Every Breath You Take (The Police) in the pre-show; spooky and sweet, and both underscoring the creepy, stalker vibe of the revenge plot.

The Pigeon continues in the Alumnae Theatre Studio until November 11. Get advance tickets online, by calling the box office: 416-364-4170, ext. 1 or in-person at the door (cash only); box office opens one hour before curtain time. All FireWorks performances run Wednesday – Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm.

Check out the trailer for The Pigeon—by Nicholas Porteous.

The three-week long FireWorks Festival continues to November 25, with two more productions (one each week):  Elmar Maripuu’s Moving On (Nov 14-18) and Romeo Ciolfi’s Animal (Nov 21-25).

Keep up with Alumnae Theatre on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

New Ideas: The chaotic metaphysics of life, love & monsters in the water in the funny, moving, poetic Week 3 program

Alumnae Theatre Company continues its 30th annual New Ideas Festival (NIF) of short new works, opening the Week Three program last night. It’s the final week of the festival, running up in the Alumnae Studio.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by Natalie Frijia, directed by Kay Brattan. In 1882 Toronto, 39 people have mysteriously drowned in Lake Ontario—and rumour has it there’s a monster beneath the slate blue water. Rookie reporter Marjorie May (Emma Tse) is determined to get the story, visiting Mary-Anne’s (Stella Kulagowski) pub down by the docks to gather some information. Things get real when they’re joined by the terrified Captain O’Connell (Shawn Lall), who’s barely escaped with his life. As the incoming storm batters the pub, there’s something else out there in the night. Is the creature coming after the Captain to finish what it started?

Nice work from the cast building the intrigue and tension in this 15-minute piece of exaggerated Toronto history. Tse brings a youthful sense of feisty defiance to the young reporter, while Kulagowski is fiery and cynical as the voluptuous barkeep; and Lall’s Captain runs the gamut from frozen terror to gritty resolve as the three stand together in the end.

Marty and Joel and the Edge of Chaos by Camille Intson, directed by Lorna Craig. Chaos theory meets romantic dramedy in this delightful and poignant two-hander played out by four actors. You’ll see what I mean. A couple—Marty (Allison Shea Reed/Kim Croscup), a physicist, and Joel (Simon Bennett/Ryan Bannon), a photographer—occupies the same space in two different times: the day they met and the day of Joel’s second marriage some 20 years later. Constructing and deconstructing the relationship, we see them go from first love to finally working toward some closure.

Beautifully acted and staged. Shea Reed and Bennett are adorably awkward as two 20-somethings getting to know, and falling for, each other. Marty and Joel seem to be perfect complements to each other, with Marty’s adventurous nature and nerdy science knowledge, and Joel’s creative, intuitive sensitivity. As older, more world-weary and disillusioned versions of their former selves, Croscup’s Marty is frustrated and angry, still looking for the answers; and Bannon’s Joel has moved on, but still cares deeply for Marty and treasures their relationship.

The Officiant by Francesca Brugnano, directed by Paige Foskett. It’s 1938, and Shirley (Brianna Riché) and William (Jordan Kenny) have stolen off into the woods, where Shirley has decorated a clearing for them to be secretly married. But when the Officiant (Lisa Kovack) arrives, the wedding service gives them a glimpse into their future together, making them think twice. Is it worth all the pain and suffering?

A lovely, poetic dance of text and movement to tell this story, with moving work from the cast. Riché is brave, romantic and practical as Shirley; and Kenny brings an earnest boyish charm to William. Kovack gives the Officiant a witch-like air of mystery and foresight; cruel to be kind, she means to get real with this couple.

Mourning after the Night Before by Chloë Whitehorn, directed by Heather Keith. When Lucy (Mary Wall) and Drew (Dave Martin) decided to move to a small town, they did it to make to make a quieter, more peaceful home for their family. Making friends with brother and sister Everett (Conor Ling) and Fenwick (Tiffany Deobald), locals who help them get settled, Lucy struggles with her relationship with her daughter Pippa (Grace Callahan), as well as emerging feelings for Everett. Everett is falling in love—but is it with Lucy or Pippa? Drew and Fenwick are trying to keep their respective families safe. Did Lucy miss something in Pippa’s dark, teen angst-filled poems?

Lovely work from the cast in this haunting, lyrical family drama. Wall is wounded and desperate as Lucy; heartbreaking in a life adrift and grasping for a sense of self. Martin’s Drew is heart-wrenching to watch; sensitive and supportive, Drew doesn’t know what to do—and finds himself drifting farther from his family. Callahan gives Pippa an ethereal, creative spirit; a somewhat wild and rebellious teen, she finds solace in writing. Ling brings a sweet, shy romantic edge to Everett; while seeing anew with these new relationships, Everett’s eyes may not be wide open. Deobald is an irreverent charmer as Fenwick; tasked with raising Everett after they were orphaned, Fen is just trying to keep it together, but shows genuine concern for the rift between her new friends Lucy and Drew.

The NIF Week Three program continues in the Alumnae Theatre Studio until March 25. Get advance tickets online or by calling the box office: 416-364-4170, ext. 1 (cash only at the box office). Performances run Wednesday – Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm.

Coming up: Week Three staged reading on Saturday, March 24 at noon. Animal by Romeo Ciolfi, directed by Liz Best; featuring actors Alexandra Milne, Anton Wasowicz, Steven Vlahos and Michele Dodick.

It’s a very popular festival and an intimate venue, so advance booking is strongly recommended. In the meantime, check out the Week Three trailer by Nicholas Porteous:

 

 

FireWorks: Divine Wrecks a heartbreaking & powerful tale of forbidden love – erotic, wickedly funny & engaging

Fleur Jacobs & Hugh Ritchie in Divine Wrecks - photo by Bruce Peters
Fleur Jacobs & Hugh Ritchie in Divine Wrecks – photo by Bruce Peters

A high school hockey god falls in love with the wrong girl: his teacher, who falls right back at him. And there’s nothing more heartbreaking than a wrong love that feels so right.

Alumnae Theatre opened its third annual FireWorks series to a packed house in the Studio last night, the three-show program launching with Chloë Whitehorn’s Divine Wrecks, directed by Pamela Redfern, assisted by Melissa Chetty.

Divine Wrecks is a contemporary take on a classic story of forbidden love. Eddy (Hugh Ritchie) is the new kid at school, his arrival deliciously anticipated by his classmates (who also serve as the play’s Chorus: Annelise Hawrylak, Megan O’Kelly, Michael Pearson and Luis Guillermo Villar), who view him as a mysterious stranger with a tragic past (he was involved in a car accident and the other driver, who was the one at fault, was killed). Enter their English teacher Cass (Fleur Jacobs) and Eddy, a star athlete with a reputation for being a player, is undone. And despite his gruff, macho exterior and challenges with expressing his feelings – and perhaps because of it – Eddy and Cass find a deep emotional connection that blossoms into a secret affair. And, of course, it’s all going to end in tears.

Ritchie and Jacobs have remarkable chemistry as the secret lovers. Ritchie’s Eddy is a bit of a Renaissance man, wise beyond his years – perhaps largely due to his recent personal tragedy – a popular student and skilled hockey player, well-read and articulate, and apparently an adept lover. Eddy is an old romantic soul despite his jockish, pretty boy bravado – and Ritchie does a nice job with revealing the layers of struggle, frustration, longing and despair. Jacobs is lovely as Cass, smart, good-natured and funny – an engaging teacher who is both genuine with and protective of her students, which makes her emerging feelings for Eddy all the more agonizing for her. Cass really wants to do the right thing, keep her job and maintain her integrity, but finds herself unable to resist the draw to Eddy – and Jacobs does an excellent job with Cass’s inner conflict as the undeniable attraction between Cass and Eddy breaks through any sense of decorum, morality or rules to the tender, fragile place that lies beneath.

The Chorus: Megan O'Kelly, Luis Guillermo Villar, Annelise Hawrylak & Michael Pearson in Divine Wrecks - photo by Bruce Peters
The Chorus: Megan O’Kelly, Luis Guillermo Villar, Annelise Hawrylak & Michael Pearson in Divine Wrecks – photo by Bruce Peters

The Chorus is marvelous. Far from being bit players, these four (they are numbered rather than named) are contemporary archetypes and the modern-day embodiment of the classical Chorus, ever watchful and always commenting. One, the Jock (Pearson): tall, muscular, jersey-wearing, wise-cracking hockey player. Two, the Cheerleader (Hawrylak): bubbly and extroverted, entitled, superficial and a bit dim. Three, the Rebel (O’Kelly): punk-styled, free-spirited loner with a fuck-you attitude who’s smarter than you think, mostly because she plays it close to the chest. Four, the Nerd (Villar): socially awkward, nervous, flood-panted and bespectacled, whip smart and asthmatic. They add some much needed comic relief to this unfolding tragedy, and pose important questions and thoughts. They could see it coming – and someone should do something. But what could they do? Shifting between titillating gossip and moments of moral and ethical commentary, they are us. They say what the audience is thinking – and they even sometimes speak directly to us.

The 1950s-inspired staging (the doo-wop soundtrack and a cappella Chorus bits) and design (shouts to Peter DeFreitas for the fabulous 50s-inspired costumes) add an extra layer of romance, even innocence, and vintage style to the production.

Divine Wrecks is a heartbreaking and powerful tale of forbidden love – erotic, wickedly funny and engaging.

The first of three shows featured in the 2015 FireWorks program, Divine Wrecks runs until Nov 8 in the Alumnae Theatre Studio; you can purchase tix in advance online or one hour before performance time at the box office (cash only). The Studio is an intimate space, so advance booking is strongly recommended for all FireWorks shows.

The FireWorks program also features a series of ‘Behind the Curtain’ post-show talk-backs after every performance – except for opening nights, when the audience is invited to join the cast and crew for a reception in the Alumnae Theatre lobby. Coming up next in the FireWorks program: Cottage Radio, by Taylor Marie Graham (Nov 11-15) and Radical, by Charles Hayter (Nov 18-22).

You can keep up with the goings on at Alumnae via Facebook and Twitter.

In the meantime, you can check out the Alumnae blog interviews with playwright Whitehorn and director Redfern – and the Divine Wrecks trailer:

The Next Big Thing online interview

LwMC micI posted this interview a while back, and thought it might be handy to re-post, especially for those of you who are new to life with more cowbell or visiting for the first time. Enjoy… 🙂

I was invited by my friend writer/blogger/poet/editor Lizzie Violet to participate in an online interview called Next Big Thing as a way for writers to do a little self-promotion and/or think about what they’re working on or will have out soon. Writers tag other writers, who all answer the same 10 questions and post them on their blog. Lizzie added a twist and decided to include playwrights, songwriters and bloggers as well, so my responses will be about my blog.

What is your working title of your blog? life with more cowbell

Where did the idea come from for the blog? I was the company blogger at Alumnae Theatre, posting about the shows it was producing, and generally shouting out and supporting the theatre. When I made the decision to “retire” from there, I decided to start my own blog. I wanted to get out to see more live theatre and music, and support local artists. On a broader level, I felt the desire to inject more excitement into my life and generate some positive impact in the process. If that makes any sense. Shout out the work and spread the good word.

What genre does your blog fall under? Arts/culture and entertainment mostly, from an experiential point of view, as opposed to being a review or critique.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? If this blog ever became a movie, it would be a huge honour if Jodie Foster played me.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your blog? Toronto-based culture vulture/social bloggerfly shares her arts/culture and entertainment adventures, with a bit of travel and philosophy thrown in.

Will your blog be self-published or represented by an agency? At this point, I have no representation or plans to turn this blog into a book – but that is an interesting notion. The blog is a serious hobby that I pursue in addition to my “day job” as a copy editor/proofreader for a national public opinion polling company. I’m not really thinking in terms of going “professional” with the blog – to get paid for writing it. Right now, I’m just happy to experience and shout out the art/artists. Though, if someone wanted to pay me to do this – I probably wouldn’t say no.

How long does it take you to write the blog/how much time do you put into it? The blog is ongoing – I post several times a week and a single post can take up to about two hours just to write. Added to that is the time it takes to go out to see the event/performance, maybe take some photos. I usually tweet about it right after, make a few notes, then let it perk in my head over night and write the next day. I also reblog posts of bloggers I follow.

What other blogs would you compare this story to within your genre? Alumnae Theatre Company’s blog, The Magnificent Something. I also contribute to Lipstik Indie Review, so there’s a very similar tone and vibe there too.

Who or what inspired you to write this blog? I come from a visual arts and performing arts (acting and singing) background, then got into writing, short stories and personal essays at first. Then I had the job of bloggergal at Alumnae Theatre – first time blogging for me – and I was hooked. Being this all-around artsy fartsy kinda gal, I wanted to see other art forms and blog about them too. 

What else about your blog might pique the reader’s interest? I’m starting to do interviews and photo essay posts, to mix it up a bit and make for a more interesting visit to the site.

Here are five writers/bloggers/playwrights – and I’m also adding an animator/filmmaker – I’d like to shout out:

Chloë Whitehorn

G. (The Magnificent Something blog)

Lesley Wallace (Coaching with Les blog)

Patrick Jenkins

Transman (The Adventures of Transman blog)

And while you’re cruising through the webiverse, check out these folks as well: Alumnae Theatre Company, Dawna J. Wightman and DJ Paul V. (Born This Way blog & book)

With thanks to Lizzie for inviting me – and Chloë, G., Lesley, Patrick and Transman for coming onboard.

The Next Big Thing online interview

I was invited by my friend writer/blogger/poet/editor Lizzie Violet to participate in an online interview called Next Big Thing as a way for writers to do a little self-promotion and/or think about what they’re working on or will have out soon. Writers tag other writers, who all answer the same 10 questions and post them on their blog. Lizzie added a twist and decided to include playwrights, songwriters and bloggers as well, so my responses will be about my blog.

What is your working title of your blog? life with more cowbell

Where did the idea come from for the blog? I was the company blogger at Alumnae Theatre, posting about the shows it was producing, and generally shouting out and supporting the theatre. When I made the decision to “retire” from there, I decided to start my own blog. I wanted to get out to see more live theatre and music, and support local artists. On a broader level, I felt the desire to inject more excitement into my life and generate some positive impact in the process. If that makes any sense. Shout out the work and spread the good word.

What genre does your blog fall under? Arts/culture and entertainment mostly, from an experiential point of view, as opposed to being a review or critique.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? If this blog ever became a movie, it would be a huge honour if Jodie Foster played me.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your blog? Toronto-based culture vulture/social bloggerfly shares her arts/culture and entertainment adventures, with a bit of travel and philosophy thrown in.

Will your blog be self-published or represented by an agency? At this point, I have no representation or plans to turn this blog into a book – but that is an interesting notion. The blog is a serious hobby that I pursue in addition to my “day job” as a copy editor/proofreader for a national public opinion polling company. I’m not really thinking in terms of going “professional” with the blog – to get paid for writing it. Right now, I’m just happy to experience and shout out the art/artists. Though, if someone wanted to pay me to do this – I probably wouldn’t say no.

How long does it take you to write the blog/how much time do you put into it? The blog is ongoing – I post several times a week and a single post can take up to about two hours just to write. Added to that is the time it takes to go out to see the event/performance, maybe take some photos. I usually tweet about it right after, make a few notes, then let it perk in my head over night and write the next day. I also reblog posts of bloggers I follow.

What other blogs would you compare this story to within your genre? Alumnae Theatre Company’s blog, The Magnificent Something. I also contribute to Lipstik Indie Review, so there’s a very similar tone and vibe there too.

Who or what inspired you to write this blog? I come from a visual arts and performing arts (acting and singing) background, then got into writing, short stories and personal essays at first. Then I had the job of bloggergal at Alumnae Theatre – first time blogging for me – and I was hooked. Being this all-around artsy fartsy kinda gal, I wanted to see other art forms and blog about them too. 

What else about your blog might pique the reader’s interest? I’m starting to do interviews and photo essay posts, to mix it up a bit and make for a more interesting visit to the site.

Here are five writers/bloggers/playwrights – and I’m also adding an animator/filmmaker – I’d like to shout out:

Chloë Whitehorn

G. (The Magnificent Something blog)

Lesley Wallace (Coaching with Les blog)

Patrick Jenkins

Transman (The Adventures of Transman blog)

And while you’re cruising through the webiverse, check out these folks as well: Alumnae Theatre Company, Dawna J. Wightman and DJ Paul V. (Born This Way blog & book)

With thanks to Lizzie for inviting me – and Chloë, G., Lesley, Patrick and Transman for coming onboard.