FireWorks Festival: Fairy tale favourites collide with a contemporary feminist twist in the hilariously charming, bawdy If the Shoe Fits

 

Erik Mrakovcic & Marina Gomes. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

 

Alumnae Theatre launches the final week of its FireWorks Festival with Genevieve Adam’s If the Shoe Fits, directed by Heather Keith—opening last night in Alumnae’s Studio Theatre. Fairy tale favourites collide, with a contemporary feminist twist, in this hilariously charming, bawdy deconstructed Cinderella story—and an inside look at what really happens after the “happily ever after”.

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Chris Coculuzzi & Erik Mrakovcic. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Hosted by our glittering Narrator (Eugenia De Jong, with a twinkle in her eye and an arch in her brow) as she interacts with both audience and characters, we’re introduced to the intrepid Sir Eglantine (Chris Coculuzzi), who’s been tasked by the Prince to find the young maiden who fits the pretty size 7 glass shoe that was left behind at the ball. He’s been at it for over two years with no success, and is at his wit’s end—until he learns of a simple pig farmer Ned (Erik Mrakovcic) who has a sister that he believes may be the one. Having raised his sister and run the family farm since they were orphaned as children, Ned is incredulous at first—especially as his sister is a rough and tumble kind of gal—but the possibility of a life of wealth and comfort for Nora (Marina Gomes), and a plumb position as the Royal Hog Supplier, convinces him to let Sir Eglantine try. And the shoe fits!

Meanwhile, at court, Felicite (Sophie McIntosh), Amandine (Jennifer Fahy) and Virginie (Chantale Groulx) share laughs and woes over a good sisterly bitch session (think Desperate Housewives of the French Court); all have either neglectful or beastly husbands, and all are engaged in affairs to varying degrees—in some cases, for economic survival.

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Jennifer Fahy, Sophie McIntosh & Chantale Groulx. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Upon his arrival at court with Ned and Nora, Sir Eglantine finds himself in hot water with Virginie after sending no word while he was away for over two years. Amandine has her eye on some fresh meat: Ned, who has also recently been fitted with some fancy court clothes (big shouts to costume designer Margaret “The Costumator” Spence for the stunning—and surprising—period wardrobe). Felicite is charged with training Nora to be a lady, with hilarious results as Nora navigates court fashion, manners and deportment. Enter a young court violinist (Mark McKelvie), who is not all he seems, who has been watching Nora with great interest. Plots, plans and unexpected alliances ensue; and even the Narrator seems at a loss about what to do. Will tattered marriages be mended—and will the Prince have his mystery sweetheart for his wife?

Excellent work from the ensemble in this fast-paced, sharply funny fairy tale for modern times that incorporates issues of gender, class, marriage and consent in candid, provocative ways. Coculuzzi rounds out Sir Eglantine’s loyal, fastidious sense of duty with a soft, romantic heart; this plays nicely against Groulx’s sharp-tongued, cynical and pragmatic Virginie, a desperate, neglected wife and mother who longs for love and security. Mrakovcic gives an amiable, but opportunistic, turn as the homespun pig farmer Ned, who has quite the eye-opening when he becomes Amandine’s boy toy; putting the shoe on the other foot, so to speak. Fahy is deliciously arch and saucy as Amandine; as experienced in the ways of love as she is in revenge, Amandine is tougher than her powdered, ribboned exterior would suggest. Gomes is extremely likeable and feisty as the rough, independent Nora; with a Puck-like agility and sense of irreverent fun, Nora plays along with her courtly transformation—but finds she’s got a big decision to make. McIntosh infuses Felicite’s poignant sweetness with a determined sense of resolve and virtue, even when she’s in doubt of what to do. And McKelvie gives the ridiculously handsome and adorably awkward Prince a boyish naiveté; entitled and sheltered, the Prince has no idea about the world outside the castle, especially when it comes to meeting women.

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Mark McKelvie. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

The knights and princes who save the damsels, or use the damsels save them from themselves, or find the mysterious girl who fits the shoe she at the ball, all feel entitled to own these women through marriage—all the while calling it “true love”. But who says the women were in distress, or wanted to save a cursed man from himself, or marry a prince?

The shoe may fit, but she doesn’t have to wear it.

If the Shoe Fits continues in the Alumnae Studio Theatre until November 24; get tickets online, by calling 416-364-4170 (ext. 1) or in-person at the box office one hour before curtain time (cash only). There will be a post-show talkback with the director, playwright and cast following the Saturday, November 23 matinée performance.

 

Toronto Fringe: Madcap comedy & love a winning combination in the playful, mercurial The Taming of the Shrew

Chris Coculuzzi & Alexandra Milne. Photo by Kathy Plamondon.

 

Aquarius Players bring Shakespeare to the Fringe stage with their madcap, playful production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Nicole Arends and running in the St. George the Martyr Courtyard.

Baptista (Scott Moore) has two daughters: the wild Katherine (Alexandra Milne) and the sweet Bianca (Greta Whipple). Bianca has a few suitors on the scene: older locals Hortensio (Chris Irving) and Gremio (Daryn DeWalt); and a new face in town, the young Lucentio (Michael Pearson), who is smitten on sight. Problem is, Baptista is determined to marry Katherine off first—but no one will have her.

Enter Petruchio (Chris Coculuzzi), who has recently inherited his father’s estate and is out in the world looking for adventure. Hortensio and Gremio convince him to woo Katherine—exulting her great dowry and father’s wealth—so they may continue their suits with Bianca. Meanwhile, Lucentio has hatched a plan of his own, switching places with his servant Tranio (Paige Madsen), who will run interference with the other suitors and press his suit to Bianca while he inserts himself into Baptista’s home as a tutor. Here, he winds up in hilarious competition with Hortensio, also in disguise as a tutor.

Petruchio marries Katherine and takes her to his home, assuming extreme, erratic and bizarre behaviour himself to gradually calm her and get her rage under control. His servants Grumio (Elaine O’Neal) and Curtis (Christina Leonard, who also plays Lucentio’s sax-playing servant Biondello, who leads us around the courtyard as the scenes change) are both in on and puzzled by all of this. It all becomes a crazy game of ‘Petruchio says,’ and he and Katherine fall in love as her cold, hardened heart melts.

Lucentio and Tranio have a few more tricks up their sleeves, including disguising a wandering Pedant (Irving) as Lucentio’s father Vincentio, who will vouch for Lucentio’s character and station to Baptista—a decision that blows their cover when the real Vincentio (DeWalt) shows up. By then, Lucentio and Bianca are already married; and their agreeable fathers forgive them as they host a wedding feast for friends and family. And, with the mad cap craziness of the Petruchio/Katherine dynamic, Katherine’s final speech advising wives to follow their husbands’ lead—though still challenging by today’s standards—becomes an argument for wives to take the lead on maintaining peace and serenity in the household.

The cast is an entertaining delight in this lively 90-minute outdoor Shakespearean romp of love, disguise, competition and well-meaning manipulation. Coculuzzi and Milne are nicely matched as the patient, meticulous rogue Petruchio and the enraged, neglected wildcat Katherine; her extreme internal rage boiling over to the surface, she behaves like a wild animal—and he applies a remedy appropriate to taming a wild creature, with great care and calculation. They are nicely supported by the ensemble, especially Whipple’s bratty favourite daughter Bianca; Pearson’s lusty, love-struck Lucentio; Madsen as the puckish wise servant Tranio; and Leonard’s awkward child-like Biondello. And Irving and DeWalt give great comic turns as Bianca’s thwarted suitors, with Irving doing hilarious double duty as the saucy, likely drunken, Pedant.

With the mercurial word play, and imaginative physicality and comedy, this Shrew is a mad world of rage and love—with wacky desperate situations requiring equally wacky desperate measures—and love wins in the end.

The Taming of the Shrew continues in the St. George the Martyr Courtyard, with two more performances: today (July 13) and July 14 at 2:00; check the show page for advance tickets. Chairs are available in and around the courtyard for those who need them; otherwise, there are blankets to sit on.

Missed a show or want to see it again? Check out the latest Fringe announcements: Fringe Awards & Patron’s Picks and Best of the Fringe.

The ABCs of cut-throat real estate in the darkly funny, testosterone-fuelled Glengarry Glen Ross

Derek Perks, Chris Coculuzzi & Frank De Francesco in Glengarry Glen Ross—photo by David Fitzpatrick

 

Amicus Productions wraps its 2016-17 season with its production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Harvey Levkoe; and opening last night at the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills.

Set in Chicago in the 1980s, Glengarry Glen Ross still resonates today with its condemnation of American business and the testosterone-filled culture that runs it. In a world where you eat what you kill, men are driven to desperate measures to survive, and thrive in a twisted hierarchy of “real men” and competition for big-ticket prizes.

The story opens at the local Chinese restaurant, where we get a lay of the land and a taste of its inhabitants. Veteran salesman Shelly “The Machine” Levine (Daryn DeWalt) has been in a serious slump and makes a desperate plea to office manager John Williamson (Chris Coculuzzi) to get some prime leads. The outraged Dave Moss (Neil Hicks) vents to his side-kick co-worker George Aaronow (Jerrold Karch), hatching a plan to take the good leads by force and put them to use for their own benefit. And the slick Richard Roma (Derek Perks) spots a mark in the shy, unassuming James Lingk (Abbas Hussain).

With Act Two opening on their pillaged office, Detective Baylen (Frank De Francesco) has taken up residence, interviewing each man one by one. Shelly seems to have emerged from his slump – and big time. And Roma is celebrating record sales, earning him a car. That all changes when a sheepish James arrives, putting that deal in jeopardy. Loyalties are tested and stand-offs get ferocious as things go to hell, and we get closer to discovering who broke in and stole the leads.

Nice work from the entire cast in this intense, hot-tempered and darkly funny Mamet classic. Stand-outs include DeWalt, who finds a great balance between flop-sweat desperation and cocky showmanship as Shelly Levine; it’s a roller coaster of extreme highs and lows as Shelly fights for his livelihood, vacillating between winning and losing. Perks is a charming scoundrel as Roma; a suave and seductive player, and a sharp marksman, Roma is nevertheless a thoughtful philosopher and a loyal guy—crediting Levine as his mentor. Just don’t get on his bad side.

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Neil Hicks, Daryn DeWalt & Derek Perks in Glengarry Glen Ross—photo by David Fitzpatrick

Coculuzzi gives us an icy, detached Williamson, who’s a bit of a cypher; the company ‘Yes man,’ Williamson’s a classic case of management who knows zero about the work he’s managing—and who deeply enjoys the withholding and proffering of power. And Karch gives a compellingly understated and comic performance as George Aaronow; a quiet, sweet guy, Aaronow may have been duped by Moss, but he knows how to look after himself.

Lie, cheat, steal. The ABCs of cut-throat real estate in the darkly funny, testosterone-fuelled Glengarry Glen Ross.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues at the Papermill Theatre until May 6; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

Love, revenge & calculated cruelty in the sexy, darkly funny & tragic Les Liaisons Dangereuses

 

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Renee Cullen (Merteuil) & Chris Coculuzzi (Valmont) – photos by Dave Fitzpatrick

Amicus Productions opened its 2016-17 season with Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Victoria Shepherd, at the Todmorden Mills Papermill Theatre last night.

An edgy, erotic, sometimes chilling story of manipulation, desire and social gamesmanship, Amicus’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays out on a traditional proscenium stage, complete with drawn curtains, on a minimalist but gorgeous chess-inspired set (Alexis Chubb), with stunning period costume and wigs (Lindsay Forde), and sound design that includes original compositions (John Stuart Campbell, ft. Vivien Shepherd on vocals).

The Marquise de Merteuil (Renée Cullen) wants revenge against a former lover, and turns to another former lover, the notorious Vicomte de Valmont (Chris Coculuzzi), with a plan for him to seduce the man’s intended fiancée, the young Cécile Volange (Christina Leonard). In exchange, Merteuil promises Valmont a night of passion. Valmont has seduction plans of his own, however; he intends to bed the pious, loyal and married Présidente de Tourvel (Melanie Leon), a woman equally famous for her virtue as he is for his vice.

When his plans at his aunt’s home (Mme de Rosemond, played by Jenn Keay) are foiled by Cecile’s mother Mme de Volange (Kerrie Lamb), Valmont decides to go along with Merteuil’s plan, as the two also conspire to assist Cécile in her secret romance with the young Chevalier Danceny (Conor Ling). Meanwhile, Valmont has set his man servant Azolan (Andrew Batten) to spy on Tourvel, via his relationship with her maid; all this while paying regular visits to his favourite courtesan Émilie (Lindsay Forde). Constantly put off by Merteuil, Valmont goes to great lengths to procure payment for his services to her – and finds himself tangled in his own web.

Cullen and Coculuzzi are nicely matched as Merteuil and Valmont, who are both cunning as cats and master manipulators. Cullen’s Merteuil is coldly beautiful and ruthless; a woman tired of the second-class status afforded to her sex, she’s learned to take power by making pawns of those around her. Coculuzzi is diabolically charming and witty as Valmont; a sexy beast who’s gained notoriety as a callous rake (i.e., heartbreaking man whore), Valmont enjoys the game – but, unlike Merteuil, he’s more about the chase than the kill. As Tourvel, Leon brings a lovely sense of conflict and repressed lust; a gentle, pious soul, she is drawn to Valmont – and as much as she fights her feelings, she can’t help but succumb to the burgeoning passion between them. Some remarkable two-hander scenes, particularly in Act II, between Merteuil and Valmont (war) and Valmont and Tourvel (beyond my control).

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Chris Coculuzzi (Valmont) & Melanie Leon (Tourvel)

Leonard gives Cécile a great combination of wide-eyed innocence and insatiable lust; schooled by Valmont, she learns things that aren’t taught to nice young ladies. And Ling’s Danceny is adorably awkward and proper; on the brink of manhood, he is innocent and naïve – and he too learns a thing or two.

Excellent work from the supporting cast: Lamb’s prim and trusting Mme de Volange; Batten’s wry-witted and resourceful Azolan; Keay’s wise and kind Mme de Rosemonde, who’s onto more than you might think; Forde’s good times party girl Émilie; and Jeff Burke gives a nice turn as the Major-Domo, who’s seen so much and says so little.

Love, revenge and calculated cruelty in the sexy, darkly funny and tragic Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses continues at the Papermill Theatre until Nov 19; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

Powerful, moving & beautifully raw storytelling in I Am Marguerite

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Daniela Pagliarello & Christopher Oszwald in I Am Marguerite – photo by Bruce Peters

In 1542, banished from a French ship by a heartless, domineering brother, Marguerite de Roberval is set afloat on a skiff towards a remote island off the north coast of Newfoundland. With her are her faithful nurse and her lover Eugene. Left with scant provisions and in fear of never seeing home or loved ones again, they land on the Isle of Demons with the prospect of perishing in the face of cold, harsh winters and predatory wildlife.

This is the story, a little-known piece of Canadian history, brought to life on stage in an hour-long, emotionally and psychologically packed play by Shirley Barrie. This is I Am Marguerite, directed by Molly Thom – and it opened to a packed house at Alumnae Theatre last night.

The storytelling is taut and compelling, shifting in and out of memory and hallucination, and honed over the past decade and after having taken on various forms – from play to opera libretto back to play again – and executed by an excellent cast. As Marguerite, Daniela Pagliarello does a remarkable job of driving the story, not to mention a lovely job of capturing the youthful passion, lust for life, curiosity and rebellious streak of the young French noblewoman. Teetering on the edge of madness, struggling with physical, emotional and mental hardship, she vacillates between a ferocious fight for survival and a desperate surrender to the memories and faces that haunt her in her loneliness. And, like Marguerite, we often find ourselves wondering if the faces are real or imagined ghosts from her past.

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Top: Chris Coculuzzi, Heli Kivilaht & Sara Price. Bottom: Daniela Pagliarello & Christopher Oszwald – photo by Bruce Peters

Joining Pagliarello is an outstanding supporting cast. As Marguerite’s ambitious, older brother Jean-François, Chris Coculuzzi gives us a strong performance of a man as driven and strong-willed as his younger sister, but with a dark, cruel edge. Proud, controlling and manipulative, he is not above using those closest to him as a means to his own ends. Heli Kivilaht is a delight as Marguerite’s former nurse and present companion Damienne, a loving, nurturing and supportive soul with an irreverent, no-nonsense sensibility. Sara Price brings layers of warmth and genuine goodness to the otherwise imperious and proper Queen of Navarre. As Marguerite’s lover Eugene, Christopher Oszwald gives us a man of quiet strength, a romantic, and a lover of music and beauty who is willing to risk it all for the woman he loves. And the love and loyalty of Eugene and Damienne’s choice to be banished with Marguerite make subsequent events all the more heartbreaking.

With big shouts to a most excellent design team. Marysia Bucholc has created a magnificent, abstract set design – the layers and multi-dimensional, almost sculptural, landscape sharp and rippling outward, with eerie, weeping trees; and props by Razie Brownstone – the rocks, bones and rustic supply trunk – dress an otherwise barren space. The characters are honed and brought to brilliant living colour with stunning period costumes by Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson. Angus Barlow’s evocative sound design features haunting atmospheric composition by James Langevin-Frieson (who composed theme music for Marguerite, played at the beginning and the end of the play), as well as period dance and lute music, going from dulcet to frenetic as the music mirrors the fragility of Marguerite’s mind.

I Am Marguerite is a powerful, moving and beautifully raw piece of storytelling.

I Am Marguerite runs on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage until April 25, featuring a talkback after the matinée on April 19. Advance tickets available online or at the box office an hour before curtain time (cash only).

Here’s a little teaser by way of the show trailer. Go see this.

Department of Corrections: An earlier version of this post neglected to mention that the original music included in Angus Barlow’s sound design was composed by James Langevin-Frieson. This has since been corrected.

A charming, joyful celebration of life & love in Sabrina Fair

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Linus (Chris Coculuzzi), Sabrina (Amy LeBlanc) and David (Adam Brooks) are reunited in Sabrina Fair – photo by Dave Fitzpatrick

Amicus Productions gave the audience a magical evening of storytelling at Todmorden Mills Papermill Theatre last night with their production of Samuel Taylor’s Sabrina Fair, directed by Victoria Shepherd.

From its first moments, where ensemble actors Diana Franz and Meara Khanna open with a once-upon-a-time prologue, to the final discovery and acknowledgement of true feelings, Sabrina Fair is an engaging – and socially astute – piece of theatre. Not a mere 20th century rom com, Taylor’s play – and Amicus’s interpretation – is a combination of silly and sublime, as the story explores class and gender, and being true to oneself in the shifting social landscape of the early 1950s.

Shepherd has assembled a delightful cast for this theatrical adventure, with several stand-outs. Amy LeBlanc is a shimmering bundle of energy and wonder as Sabrina, a romantic realist, inspired by poetry and the excitement of the new and undiscovered – totally in love with the world even as she struggles to find her place in it. Chris Coculuzzi’s Linus is nicely layered; a man of panache and wit with killer business instincts – the tin man puppet master who’s forced to find his heart. Peter Bloch-Hansen is a treat as Mr. Larrabee, the somewhat befuddled family patriarch, whose bizarre hobby of attending funerals serves as a touchstone of certainty in a world he no longer understands. As his wife Maude, Sandra Cardinal is more self-aware than at first glance, with her sharp-witted – if not put upon – observations of society and family. And Heather Goodall, as Maude’s long-time chum Julia, hits just the right notes as the stylish, professional socialite, her self-possessed, well put-together exterior masking the vulnerability and loneliness beneath the surface. Nice work from Adam Brooks as Linus’s impetuous, boyish younger brother David; and Jeff Burke does a lovely job as Fairchild, Sabrina’s father and the family chauffeur, an extremely well-read man who’s full of surprises himself. All supported by a fine group of ensemble players.

With shouts to Alexis Chubb’s light, minimalist set design: the Larrabee’s garden patio, which is especially beautiful during the evening party scene, with its suspended multi-coloured lanterns and votive candles. And to Meredith Hubbard’s stunning costume design, which brings the palette and silhouette of this period – and this world – to life, especially with Sabrina’s and Julia’s frocks.

Amicus Productions’ Sabrina Fair is a charming, joyful celebration of life and love in a changing world.

Sabrina Fair continues its run at the Papermill Theatre until February 7, with matinée performances on February 1 and 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 regular and $20 seniors/students – available online or by phone at 416-860-6176.

Get yourself out for a wonderful time at the theatre. And, in case you were wondering – yes, this is the play that inspired the film Sabrina and the 1995 remake. In the meantime, check out the Amicus trailer:

And take a look at the interview with Amy LeBlanc.

Department of Corrections: Due to a last-minute casting change, one of the two prologue actors was incorrectly identified as Amaka Umeh and should have been noted as Diana Franz; this has been corrected.

Amicus Productions’ Cyrano De Bergerac a highly entertaining & moving adventure in wit, swordplay & love

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Valvert (Scott Simpson) challenges Cyrano (Chris Coculuzzi) to a duel.

Spent a highly entertaining afternoon at The Papermill Theatre (Todmorden Mills, 67 Pottery Rd.) yesterday, with Amicus Productions’ performance of Cyrano De Bergerac, written by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Chris Coculuzzi and Roxanne Deans, and directed by Mary Dwyer (Toronto Fringe fans may have seen their marvelous 80-minute memory play version of Cyrano, performed outdoors at the 2004 fest).

Amicus does a really nice job with this classic tale of the mercurial poet, philosopher and swordsman, whose unusually long nose is a distinct social liability among those who are unwilling or unable to look past it. This new, full-length version is a more linear piece of storytelling, hearkens back to Coculuzzi and Deans’ original script, based on the translations of Gladys Thomas, Mary F. Guillemard and Howard Thayer Kingsbury.

Excellent work from the cast, including several multi-tasking supporting players. Coculuzzi does a remarkable job in the title role, bringing a lively yet grounded combination of wit, grace and spleen to a man who, despite his rough edges and brash behaviour, is possessing of a vulnerable heart and a romantic soul. Celeste Van Vroenhoven gives us a nicely layered Roxane, sweet and loyal, also a romantic at heart, and naive at first about love and human behaviour – but unlike both Cyrano and Christian, fearless in the face of love. Paul Cotton does a nice job as Roxane’s earnest admirer Christian, hot and youthful in love – shallow, but not ill-meaning. The triangle here is a lovely illustration of superficial and deep love, both of which can be communicated via poetry and sweet words.

Derek Perks is deliciously diabolical as the smirking and snake-like De Guiche, the noble vying for Roxane’s affections – and not above playing dirty to win her. And Stephen Flett is a delight as the ebullient Ragueneau, the chef with the heart of a poet. And big shouts to Roxanne Deans for stepping in at the top of the show to stand in as Le Bret, when actor Henrik Thessen got stuck in traffic on the way to the theatre.

The design team did a marvelous job, producing a beautifully minimalist set – both practical and aesthetically pleasing – as well as assembling striking costume and evocative music of the period: Arash Eshghpour (set), David Buffham (lighting), Farnoosh Talebpour (costume) and Dave Fitzpatrick (sound). With kudos to Naomi Priddle Hunter for choreographing the exciting and fun sword fights.

Amicus Productions’ Cyrano De Bergerac is a highly entertaining and moving adventure in wit, swordplay and love. This is some big fun for all ages – so get yourselves over to the Papermill Theatre to see this.

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Cyrano (Chris Coculuzzi) prompts Christian (Paul Cotton) as he woos Roxane (Celeste Van Vroenhoven)

Cyrano De Bergerac runs at the Papermill Theatre until November 22. You can get advance tickets online or by phone: 416-860-6176.