Power, identity & politics: Women come out from behind the men in the potent, thoughtful Portia’s Julius Caesar

Nikki Duval & Christine Horne. Set & costume design by Rachel Forbes. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Shakespeare’s women continue to take centre stage this summer—this time, with Shakespeare in the Ruff’s production of AD Kaitlyn Riordan’s Portia’s Julius Caesar, a potent and thoughtful adaptation of Julius Caesar from the point of view of the women in this story. The sharply wrought script weaves the text woven from 17 Shakespeare plays, four sonnets and a poem with new dialogue—and the women behind the men come to the fore as they wrestle with their own issues of identity, power and justice. Directed by Eva Barrie, Portia’s Julius Caesar is currently running outdoors in Toronto’s Withrow Park.

While all of Rome celebrates Caesar’s (Jeff Yung) triumphant return from a successful campaign against the sons of Pompey, his wife Calpurnia (Nikki Duval) confides in her bosom friend Portia, wife to Brutus (Christine Horne), regarding her concerns over their lack of an heir and Caesar’s relationship with the legendary Cleopatra, who she fears may usurp her. Nursing a newborn son herself, Portia is supportive and optimistic for her friend’s chances of bearing a child; but soon finds herself uneasy in her own marriage as Brutus (Adriano Sobretodo Jr.) becomes increasingly distant and absent from their home.

Meanwhile, some in Rome are troubled by Caesar’s desire for a crown, which he hides with false humility; and there are those who fear that the republic may become a monarchy ruled by a boisterous, boasting tyrant. Among these are Servilia (Deborah Drakeford), Brutus’s imperious power-brokering mother and Cassius (Kwaku Okyere), Brutus’s friend—who both fan his deep concerns over Caesar’s popularity and hunger for power. Choosing his love of Rome over his love of Caesar, Brutus joins Cassius and a group of like-minded conspirators in a deadly plan to put a stop to Caesar’s rise to power. Hiding in the shadows to learn what is afoot, Portia catches wind of the plan; now faced with wanting to warn her friend Calpurnia but not betray her husband, she goes to Calpurnia with a story of a dream of Caesar’s bloody statue. Coupled with the Soothsayer’s (Tahirih Vejdani) recent warning, Calpurnia attempts to stop Caesar from going to the Senate on that fateful day—even after Brutus has persuaded him to do so—but fails to convince.

The actions that follow create a heartbreaking rift between Calpurnia and Portia, and make for additional tragedy in this tale of power, propaganda and loyalty. Portia fears for her life and that of her son when Marc Antony (Giovanni Spina) turns the people against Brutus, Cassius and their fellow assassins. Returning home to find Brutus gone, Portia learns that Servilia has secreted their son away to keep him safe. But how safe can anyone be in these chaotic, bloody times? In the end, the living are left to mourn their dead—and judge themselves for their actions in the outcome.

Remarkable work from Duval and Horne as Calpurnia and Portia; friends of their own accord, with a relationship separate from that of their husbands, these women truly love, nurture and support each other. Duval gives a moving performance as Calpurnia; an intelligent woman, well aware of her husband’s station and rise to power, Calpurnia beats herself up for not having children and blames herself for his womanizing. And seeing her friend nurse her baby makes Calpurnia want a child even more. Horne deftly mines Portia’s internal conflict as a contented, happy mother and supportive wife and friend whose reach only goes so far. Portia simply can’t wait on the sidelines when she knows that something serious is afoot with Brutus—and her insistence that he confide in her comes from a genuine desire to help. Longing to not only do their duty, but be real, invested partners to their husbands, Calpurnia and Portia can only respond as events emerge—and do what they believe is right under the circumstances. Drakeford gives a striking performance as the sharp-witted, intimidating yet vulnerable Servilia. Unable to wield direct political power herself, Servilia employs what influence she has to persuade individuals and manage events; and with no female role models at the time, she appears to model her behaviour after that of powerful men—perhaps finding herself at odds with her natural instincts.

The outstanding ensemble also includes a Young Ruffian Chorus (Troy Sarju, Sienna Singh and Jahnelle Jones-Williams); and the male actors also portray the various washerwomen—as women and slaves, they represent the lowest among the 99% in Rome. Okyere’s fiery, volatile, hasty Cassius is the perfect foil to Sobretodo’s cool, diplomatic, calculating Brutus. Spina does a great job balancing Antony’s fired-up warrior and eloquent orator; and, in addition to the enigmatic Soothsayer, Vejdani gives us a playful and seductive Casca, a Roman courtesan in this adaptation whose part in the plot includes distracting Antony from the impending plot against Caesar.

Portia’s Julius Caesar continues at Withrow Park (in the space just south of the washrooms) until September 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (no show on August 27, but there will be a special Labour Day performance on Sept 3); the show runs 110 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are PWYC at the venue (cash only: $20 suggested); advance tickets available online for $20 (regular) or $30 (includes camp chair rental).

Bring a blanket, beach towel or chair; bug spray also recommended. Concerned about the possible impact of weather conditions on a performance? Keep an eye out on Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Twitter feed or Facebook page for updates and cancellations.

In the meantime, check out this insightful and revealing Toronto Star piece by Carly Maga about the show, including an interview with AD/playwright Kaitlyn Riordan.

Advertisements

Hamlet as you’ve never seen it in the haunting, beautiful ASL/English adaptation Prince Hamlet

Christine Horne as Hamlet in Prince Hamlet—photo by Bronwen Sharp

 

Why Not Theatre mounts Ravi Jain’s exciting bilingual (ASL and English) adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with its production of Prince Hamlet, directed by Jain; and currently running at the Theatre Centre.

This production has already been garnering some well-deserved buzz. Not only does Prince Hamlet make the Shakespeare classic accessible for Deaf audiences, it addresses issues of diversity and inclusion in casting, particularly for the largely white, male, Eurocentric, and hearing, classics. Jain’s text adeptly shifts scenes (Horatio’s speech to Fortinbras, usually seen at the end of the play, is used as an introduction, with Horatio addressing the audience), and effectively interweaves scenes of action with those of corresponding exposition (Horatio and the guards encountering/reporting of the ghost, as well as moments/reports of Hamlet’s erratic behaviour) in an engaging and theatrical way. We also see scenes from different perspectives—and it’s all performed by an outstanding ensemble of actors, with female actors taking on a number of male roles and a male actor playing Ophelia.

The program provides a handy synopsis of the play, which I will not replay here; if you need a refresher or you’re new to Hamlet, you can also check out the Wikipedia page. What is remarkable about this production is that Horatio (played by Deaf actor Dawn Jani Birley) is featured prominently; our narrator, he is both witness to and interpreter of (signing much of the text) Hamlet’s (Christine Horne) story. ASL is incorporated into the dialogue in a seamless, inclusive way that reveals relationships, in that Horatio is understood by Hamlet when he signs, and Hamlet communicates with him in both English and ASL. In many respects, the story is told from Horatio’s point of view—culminating in that fateful final scene where the dead outnumber the living and, one of the few still standing, Horatio bids a tearful farewell to his friend.

Joining Birley and Horne for this journey of revenge, reflections on mortality and tragedy are Miriam Fernandes (Rosencrantz, Player King, Gravedigger), Jeff Ho (Ophelia), Hannah Miller (Guildenstern, Player Queen), Rick Roberts (Claudius), Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah (Laertes), Karen Robinson (Gertrude) and Maria Vacratsis (Polonius); all actors play their respective characters as originally written and all introduce themselves in ASL at the top of the show. These are actors playing characters, and regardless of gender casting, each brings a grounded, genuine and unique interpretation of the person they’re playing. And this cast looks like the people we see every day in our city.

Horne gives us a compelling and moving Hamlet, bringing a fragile edge to his melancholy, countered by a sharp, wry sense of humour. This adaptation has Horne also playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father, an interesting choice that evokes dark moments of possession. A bashful and cheeky romantic in love with Ophelia, playful and candid with his bosom friend Horatio, and poetic in his philosophical inner debates on revenge and mortality, this is a Hamlet for the 21st century.

PRINCE HAMLET-Dawn Jani Birley as Horatio-photo Bronwen Sharp
Dawn Jani Birley as Horatio—photo by Bronwen Sharp

Birley’s complex, conflicted Horatio is both a part of and witness to the tragedy that unfolds. Also acting as our host and guide, Horatio signs his dialogue and translates the text into ASL throughout, including some brilliant comic relief during one of Hamlet’s encounters with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. She gives a gripping interpretation of the fight scene between Hamlet and Laertes, and her “Goodnight, sweet Prince” is both beautiful and heart-breaking.

As Gertrude, Robinson brings a sharply drawn evolution to the relationship with Claudius, from giddy in love to devastated and horrified. Concerned for the welfare her son throughout, Gertrude finds herself faced with a choice between her new husband and her son. Roberts gives us a big, lusty Claudius; living the dream until he’s called out by Hamlet’s carefully crafted play presentation. In a moving and tortured prayer scene, dejected and unable to repent, Claudius realizes he’s unwilling to give up the spoils of his crime, resorting to further treachery and cover-ups.

PRINCE HAMLET-(standing) Karen Robinson as Gertrude, Rick Roberts as Claudius, (kneeling) Jeff Ho as Ophelia, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Laertes-photo Bronwen Sharp
Foreground: Jeff Ho as Ophelia & Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Laertes; Background: Karen Robinson as Gertrude & Rick Roberts as Claudius—photo by Bronwen Sharp

Ho is lovely as the playful, but delicate Ophelia, whose descent into madness is both heartbreaking and disturbing. Vacratsis is hilariously wordy and sharply academic as Polonius; decidedly not a man of few words, he nevertheless has wisdom to impart, as evidenced in his famous advice to Laertes. And Roberts-Abdullah gives Laertes a fierce edge under that affable, good son exterior; belly full of fire, he’s hell-bent on revenge for his father and sister, but never loses his sense of fairness.

Fernandes and Miller do a great job juggling multiple roles; Fernandes is great fun as the impudent, philosophical Gravedigger and Miller brings a sense of sass to Hamlet’s pal Guildenstern.

With big shouts to the design team for their rich, evocative work on this production: Lorenzo Savoini (set and costumes), André du Toit (lighting) and Thomas Ryder Payne (sound).

Hamlet as you’ve never seen it in the haunting, beautiful ASL/English adaptation Prince Hamlet.

Prince Hamlet continues at the Theatre Centre until April 29; get advance tickets online.

Check out this conversation (in ASL and English, with subtitles and interpreter voice-over) between director Ravi Jain and actor Dawn Jani Birley for Intermission Magazine.

Toronto Fringe: Privacy and identity in the digital age in sharply funny, edgy Cam Baby

cambaby.groupfunny.beaudixonbrandoncoffeychristinehorneashleybottingandrewcameronkarlang - cam babyJessica Moss and Theatre Mischief get into the guilty pleasures and discomfiting side of social media consumption and interaction in Moss’s new play Cam Baby, running now on the Factory Theatre Mainspace for Toronto Fringe. Directed by Charlotte Gowdy, assisted by Taylor Trowbridge, Cam Baby is the 2016 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest winner.

Joseph (Andrew Cameron) and Matabang (Karl Ang) are bros and business partners, running an Airbnb business with a little something extra on the side called Cam Baby, where the guests become the show. Joseph’s conscience gets the better of him when his crush Natalie (Christine Horne) moves in after breaking up with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, guest Clara (Ashley Botting), in town for three months while taking a course, is navigating a burgeoning romance with Tim (Brandon Coffey). Things all go to hell when new guest Ezra (Beau Dixon) outs the Cam Baby operation. Schadenfreude, voyeurism, commodifying other people’s lives – for money or social currency – and issues of identity on and off screen all play prominently, as does the meaning of connection in an age when our devices become an extension of ourselves.

The sharp social commentary, which shifts between hilarious and discomfiting, is delivered with lightning speed by an outstanding cast. Ang is a manic, despicable sleazebag as Matabang; a slick fast talker with an amoral sensibility – as Tim mentions at one point, he is Red Bull personified. Cameron does a great job with Joseph’s inner conflict; the good guy to Matabang’s bad guy, his hands are just as dirty. He wants to come clean, but does he have the balls to walk the talk? Botting does an awesome job with Clara’s see-sawing between self-possession and low self-esteem; articulate and smart, she’s basically a good person, but even she crosses the line at times. Horne is delightfully quirky as the conflicted, self-absorbed Natalie; the “beautiful one” of the female guests, she is happy to consume and use the lives of others, but does little with her own life. Coffey is adorkable as the sweet, sensitive Tim; he is the most genuine of the bunch, but even he’s not entirely innocent, as he gleefully watches videos of people taking a bad tumble. And Dixon brings a lovely, child-like innocence as the lonely, socially awkward Ezra; he’s a troubled guy, but is he dangerous?

In the end, we’re all culpable; judging by appearances and gossiping about others online and in person to gain attention and social standing. And maybe if we stopped being such lookie loos and turned our gaze inward more often, we’d see that we’re all so much more than the sum of our likes and followers, and more than our body shape, job title or hotness rating. Maybe we might get a better idea of who we really are – and who our friends really are.

With shouts to set/costume designer Brandon Kleiman for the trippy, modular set – the apartment spaces delineated in part by a structure of boxes painted with a QR code design, which carries over into the chairs.

Who are we when others are watching? When nobody’s watching? Do we even know? Privacy and identity in the digital age in sharply funny, edgy Cam Baby.

Cam Baby continues at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until July 10; definitely book ahead for this one, folks. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Hilarious, frank & real – grown-ups dealing the best they can in Sex After Kids

A father/adult daughter conversation that ventures into TMI territory – for both of them.

A date between two single parents that ends with a note that reads: “I’m really really sorry for drugging you.”

A couple with an infant and a non-existent sex life are both tempted to stray.

These are just a few of the moments presented in the multi-storied Sex After Kids – now playing in Toronto at the Carlton. This film, by Canadian writer/director Jeremy LaLonde, was a labour of love, of friends and family, on many levels – funded through a crowdsourcing campaign and populated with an impressive ensemble of Canadian talent, including some familiar faces from the cast of Lost Girl (Paul Amos, Katie Boland, Kris Holden-Ried, Christine Horne and Zoie Palmer), veteran actor Gordon Pinsent and some truly adorable kids (including LaLonde’s son and daughter).

This is a hilariously frank, real and poignant look at the sex lives of parents – mostly new parents – and how the grown-ups deal with the challenge of navigating their drastically altered lives and relationships, and coming to grips with how their own identities have changed in the process. Everyone is flawed, struggling and doing the best they can to deal with his/her situation, to varying degrees of success. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but life moves on. I laughed a lot, gasped several times and really felt for these characters. This is an outstanding and generous cast, and the stories were woven together brilliantly.

It was especially gratifying to see Sex After Kids last night, as actor Amanda Brugel and her Brug’s Army hosted a fundraising screener – including a food and clothing drive, and cast meet ‘n greet – for Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter.

Sex After Kids has been held over for another week at the Carlton, so if you’re in Toronto, get your butt on over there to see it.

Check out the trailer:

World premiere of Nightwood production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets – riveting & heart-wrenching

I had the pleasure of attending another world premiere of a work by an emerging female playwright last night: Nightwood Theatre’s production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets, a two-hander directed by Kelly Thornton, and starring Susan Coyne and Christine Horne, onstage at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space. Don’t let the short running time (approx. 1 hour) fool you – there is a lot going on in this hour in the classroom during parent/teacher interview night. And the stakes are huge.

Kelly Wolf’s set took me back to the first day of school, and I found myself walking past a perfectly rendered third grade classroom as I found a seat. Along the top of the green chalkboard are four printed cardboard trees, each set in different seasons, starting with Fall. Above the chalkboard, students’ paintings are taped up all along the wall. There is a large clock with big numbers and hands. A cubby with books and craft supplies. Small desks, with colourful duotangs set on top and blue chairs in front of them, dot the light blue floor in groups of three, miniature islands – smaller worlds within this small world. And in the background, the sound of rhythmic clapping, perhaps skipping too. Schoolyard games.

As the lights go down and come back up on this microcosm of life, we see Teresa, the young grade three teacher tidying up and preparing to leave following an evening of meetings with parents when Marion, the mom of a student named Alex, appears unexpectedly at her classroom door. A discussion of Alex’s social and academic progress turns to accusations of infidelity, as Marion accuses Teresa of having an affair with her husband Curtis. The intense battle of words that follows has both women fighting for their lives – riveting and heart-wrenching, with unexpected flashes of humour, and even compassion and understanding. In the end, as both are left to pick up the pieces of the evening’s revelations, Teresa is alone once more, the ticking of the clock becoming louder as it echos throughout the empty classroom.

Outstanding performances from both Coyne and Horne, with Horne’s Teresa showing surprising guts and strength beneath the sweet and fragile exterior, and Coyne bringing lovely layers to Marion – from imperious corporate lioness to exhausted, frustrated and confused wife and mother. Nice work, ladies! And I was very happy to bump into both of them as I was leaving so I could tell them so.

Also want to give a shout out to Nightwood’s 10,000 Women campaign in support of women’s voices in the arts, a fundraiser that the company is launching with this production. The aim is to get 10,000 donations of $10, with each donor offering the name of a woman in their life that they want to honour – the names will appear in print at the end of the campaign. For more info – and to donate – check out this page:  http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/support/10000_women

Between the Sheets runs at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until October 7, with a post-show talkback – parenting and relationship expert Sara Dimerman with moderator Diane Flacks – coming up tomorrow night (Thurs, Sept 27): http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/between_the_sheets#tab4

For more info and reservations, please visit the Nightwood Theatre website: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/between_the_sheets#tab1

Between the Sheets, February & Gay Play Days – plus Nuit Blanche!

The good times just keep on rollin’, my friends. Here are just a few fabulous arts and culture events happening right now or coming up soon:

Nightwood Theatre’s production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets at Tarragon Theatre (extra space) – started its run last night and runs until Sun, Oct 7. Directed by Kelly Thornton, and featuring actors Susan Coyne and Christine Horne. Get the 411 on this production at Nightwood’s site: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/between_the_sheets#tab1

The world premiere of Lisa Moore’s play February at Alumnae Theatre (main stage) – Fri, Sept 21 – Sat, Oct 6 with a Q&A talkback with Moore, director Michelle Alexander, and the cast and creative team after the Sun, Sept 23 matinee. For details and reservations, visit the Alumnae website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213feb.html

Gay Play Days, a festival of LGBT theatre, at Alumnae Theatre (studio) – Fri, Sept 28 and Sat, Sept 29 at 8 p.m. Featuring short plays: Intervention by Bruce Harrott, The Object of Her Attraction by Tina McCulloch, Stupid Bitch by Durango Miller and Ramblings of a Middle-aged Drag Queen by Darren Stewart-Jones (starring Philip Cairns), as well as a staged reading of Sky Gilbert’s Hamilton Bus Stop, starring Ellen-Ray Hennessy. For the scoop, visit their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GayPlayDay

Nuit Blanche 2012 (Toronto) lands a bit early this year – starting Sat, Sept 29 at 7 :03 p.m. and running till sunrise on Sun, Sept 30. I’ll be heading out to see Dr. Draw (http://drdraw.ca/) at the Rivoli at 8 p.m. and Lizzie Violet reading horror poetry in Small Audiences at the Theatre Local space at Artscape Wychwood Barns  at 3:30 a.m., among other artists. Check out the program/locations here: http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/