Taming the Shrew like it’s 1989 in sharply witty, playfully bawdy, LGBTQ+ Bard’s Bus Tour

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Geoffrey Armour & Siobhan Richardson – photo by Dahlia Katz

Driftwood Theatre Group launched its annual Bard’s Bus Tour earlier this month, this time with a 1980s Toronto Pride take on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Driftwood Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith and running this week at Toronto’s Withrow Park.

A challenging play to produce for modern-day audiences, given its dynamic of patriarchal dominance tinged with misogyny, Smith and company decided to take the opportunity to present the play from a contemporary point of view, exploring themes of identity, consent and equality.

Set in 1989, Lucentio (Fiona Sauder) and Tranio (Paolo Santalucia) travel from small-town Ontario to Toronto to experience the sights, sounds and possible romantic entanglements of Pride. Upon their arrival, they witness a family matter gone public, as Baptista (Renée Hackett) engages in a battle of words with Hortensio (Drew O’Hara) and Gremio (played by various company members, in mask), both would-be suitors to her youngest daughter Bianca (Tahirih Vejdani). Baptista refuses to let anyone marry Bianca until her eldest daughter, the wild Katharine (Siobhan Richardson) is wed first, an edict which prompts Hortensio to enlist the aid of his old friend Petruchio (Geoffrey Armour), newly arrived from Hamilton, recently furnished with a great inheritance after his father’s death and seeking a wife.

In the meantime, Lucentio has fallen for Bianca, and they* and Tranio devise a plan to woo her, whereby they switch identities so Tranio can present Lucentio as a tutor to Baptista’s household. Meanwhile, Petruchio and Hortensio have hatched a similar plan, placing Hortensio as a music teacher. The initial spark between Petruchio and Katharine becomes apparent as they begin a game of wits and dominance. They marry on the day of the Pride Parade, and he immediately takes her away to his home in Hamilton where he begins the process of taming her as the two test their boundaries. Add to this wacky mix are two Vincentio’s (Lucentio’s father): a pedant enlisted by Tranio to play the part in order to validate the dowry offer and the real Vincentio, who arrives searching for his child.

Artfully staged, with a minimalist set comprised of modular, movable Tetris pieces (designed by Smith), and utilizing commedia dell’arte masks (for Gremio, Vincentio and the various servants, each played by various members of the company), puppetry, inventive props, and outrageous and colourful 80s costuming (Melanie McNeill), Driftwood’s The Taming of the Shrew challenges our preconceived notions of this play in a battle of equals, loving who they want to love and how they want to love.

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Paolo Santalucia & Fiona Sauder – photo by Dahlia Katz

Shouts to an outstanding ensemble, with its high-energy performances and totally rad a cappella renderings of favourite 80s pop tunes (arrangements by Tom Lillington). Armour is both charming and rough as Petruchio, a ruffian with a loving disposition beneath the lusty denim and flannel exterior. Richardson is fierce and unforgiving as the neglected Katherine, whose heart longs for love beneath that scrappy attitude; she consents to soften under her husband’s direction as they set the terms for their relationship of equals. Sauder is adorably love-stricken and determined as the floppy-haired cutie pie Lucentio; and Vejdani’s Bianca is a small but feisty gal under the good little sister exterior. Hackett is a strong negotiator and drives a hard bargain as the noble, put-upon mother Baptista; and is hilarious as Petruchio’s laid-back servant Curtis. Santalucia is a delight as the sharp-witted, mercurial and flamboyant Tranio; and O’Hara gives a hilarious turn as the spurned and opportunistic Hortensio.

Taming the Shrew like it’s 1989 in Driftwood Theatre’s sharply witty, playfully bawdy, LGBTQ+ Bard’s Bus Tour 2016.

The Taming of the Shrew continues at Toronto’s Withrow Park until this Sunday, July 24 – please note the 7:30 start time. Toronto performances include the following extras:

July 20: Pre-show chat (6:45 p.m.) with Dr. Nikki Cesare Schotzko, University of Toronto

July 21: Intermission show by 80s throwback a cappella band Retrocity; post-show chat with the actors

July 22: Pre-show chat (6:45 p.m.) with Headmistress Shaharazad

Shrew then moves on to various locations across Ontario till August 14; check here for cities, dates and seat reservation info.

*In this production, the part of Lucentio has been cast to be gender fluid, identifying as neither male nor female; therefore, the pronoun “they” is used.

Insight & delight in a satirical battle of the sexes in highly entertaining You Never Can Tell

Stephen Vani & Sara Jackson, with Heather Goodall looking on, in You Never Can Tell – photo by Douglas Griesbach

I don’t often make the trip out to Fairview Library Theatre, but for Stage Centre Productions, I was willing to make an exception, to see their production of George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell, directed by Scott Griffin, which opened to an enthusiastic audience last night.

Inspired by commedia dell’arte and with the hallmark social satire that we’ve come to know and love about Shaw’s work, You Never Can Tell pits reason against romance in a pre-20th century battle of the sexes. Set at an English seaside resort on one August day in 1896, energetic, playful twins Dolly (Sara Jackson) and Phillip Clandon (Stephen Vani) make the acquaintance of bachelor dentist Valentine (Holm Bradwell) during Dolly’s visit for a tooth extraction. All are newcomers, and this is the twins’ first time in England, having been raised by their mother (Heather Goodall) with their older sister Gloria (Kate MacDonald) in Madrid. The fact that they don’t know their father is shocking to Valentine, who finally accepts the twins’ invitation to lunch when they’re able to come up with a grandfather; he is also smitten when he meets Gloria. Before they leave the dental office, the twins meet Valentine’s ornery landlord Fergus Crampton (Michael Chodos), who is put out with a bad tooth and six weeks’ back rent owing from Valentine – and who has a wife and three children he hasn’t seen in 18 years – and he is invited to lunch as well.

You can probably see where this is going. The twins have unwittingly invited their estranged father to lunch and all heck breaks loose, turning this surprising and unwelcome family reunion into a legal battle when Crampton takes issue with how the twins were raised and demands custody. The Clandons’ lawyer Finch McComas (Fabio Saposnik) comes to the rescue and enlists the aid of Bohun, Q.C. (Stephen Flett) to mediate the matter – and to great and satisfactory effect. In the meantime, Gloria and Valentine spar over their feelings for each other, complete with manipulation, revelation and adoration – not to mention some telling and funny hypocrisy and double standards. All this under the care and watchful eye of William (whose real name is Walter) the hotel waiter (Roger Kell), who has a surprise family reunion of his own with his lawyer son.

You Never Can Tell is Shaw at his wittiest, fast-paced best – and this cast is more than up for it. Jackson and Vani are a rambunctious treat as the mercurial chatterbox twins. Jackson is endearing as Dolly, with her unstoppable curiosity and lack of discretion; and Vani has a quixotic and dramatic flare as Phillip, a self-professed expert observer of the human condition. Goodall brings a lovely combination of world-wise intellect and warmth to the direct, forward-thinking Mrs. Clandon; a modern woman and author who chose to leave the unbearable confines of a loveless marriage to a harsh husband, her family may be unconventional, but her children are educated and loved. MacDonald’s Gloria is statuesque, stoic and whip smart; brought up to embrace science and reason, she is shocked and ashamed by her feelings towards Valentine, but refuses to be put down by them. There’s some great chemistry with Bradwell’s Valentine, who blends nicely the romantic and sentimental with the studied and observant; and the two are so well matched, you can’t tell who’s winning.

Chodos’s Crampton is a great combination of glowering grump and baffled traditionalist; appalled by the twins’ behaviour, he can’t help but be charmed by them. He’s not a bad man, just a stubborn one with old-school, outdated standards who’s resistant to change. Other stand-outs include Kell’s William, a delightfully affable, philosophical, class-conscious man who sees things for the way they are, but is nevertheless optimistic enough to allow room for change. It is William who utters, time and again, the words that form the play’s title. Saposnik gives McComas some hilarious layers; a put-upon lawyer trying to maintain a professional, serious demeanour as he struggles to take charge of an unruly situation – and even more unruly clients in the Clandons – he’s an outsider, yet part of the family. And, although we don’t see him till the final scene, Flett is a memorable and strong presence as Bohun, the commanding, astute and sharp Q.C. who can present a situation in a way others hadn’t considered – and to insightful and comical effect.

With shouts to the set designer Todd Davies and lighting designer Michael Walsh for creating a magically light, airy and open seaside environment; and wardrobe coordinator Gayle Owler for assembling the striking period costumes.

Insight and delight in a satirical battle of the sexes in Stage Centre Productions’ highly entertaining You Never Can Tell.

You Never Can Tell continues at the Fairview Library Theatre until Saturday, May 28, 2016; the show runs Friday to Sunday this week and Wednesday to Saturday next week, with an 8 p.m. curtain – except for May 22 and 28, which are 2 p.m. matinee days. You can book ahead by calling the box office at 416-299-5557 to reserve tickets or book online. Advance booking strongly recommended, as this is a popular show – and rumour has it the run is on the way to being sold out.

Stage Centre Productions is very excited about its upcoming 40th season; Artistic Director Michael James Burgess had this to say:

We will be kicking off our 40th Season (my 6th as Artistic Director) in September with the North American premiere of an English comedy called Entertaining Angels by Richard Everett, which broke box office records at the Chichester Festival Theatre a few years ago. That production received widely positive reviews, receiving 5 stars from the Edinburgh Guide with The Sunday Times writing that “Richard Everett has written a warm, glowing, serious comedy, like an Ayckbourn play finished by JM Barrie,” while the London Evening Standard reviewed the play as a “very English comedy with some real emotion … scratch the surface and you’ll find interesting undercurrents rippling the water … Adultery, miscarriage, divorce and deception interestingly handled all, are just some of the problems that writer Richard Everett beds down among well-received jokes … This is a sure-fire hit.”

So mark Thursday, September 29 in your calendars for first night.

In the meantime, enjoy the May 24 long weekend, all!

An entertaining, poignant love letter to roots, family & father in Paolozzapedia


Paolozzapedia Adam & Mask_horizontal photo credit  Lacey Creighton
Adam Paolozza in Paolozzapedia – photo by Lacey Creighton


Why Not Theatre’s 2015 edition of the RISER Project continued the final leg of its programming last night at the Theatre Centre with the opening performances of Mahmoud (which I saw on Wed. night – see the post here) and Paolozzapedia.

Written and performed by Adam Paolozza, who co-directed with Daniele Bartolini, and produced in partnership with Bad New Days Performing Arts, Paolozzapedia is described as an “auto-fictional-biography” – a personal, one-man trip across time, space and cultures in the search for meaning.

Paolozzapedia uses a delightful combination of personal anecdote, traditional storytelling and documentary. The performance tool box includes monologue, dialogue, songs accompanied by acoustic guitar, projected images and text (including English subtitles) and commedia dell’arte performance as Paolozza flashes back and forth in time and location, highlighting the moments that resonate. A personal history tour, mined for what the past can say about the present.

Evocative staging and pacing capture the imagination and take us along on this trip, starting with an easy-going, slow groove as Paolozza makes Italian coffee onstage, sending pre-made pots of coffee around the audience. It’s like we’re all hanging out in his kitchen as he sets up the story. A story of how a disillusioned and depressed young man decides to take a journey into the past – to his father’s hometown in southern Italy. Despairing of the present and anxious about the future – ever aware of the fleeting nature of time – he seeks to find some grounding in the present and the ability to move forward into the future. As he travels by train from the airport to meet a family friend who will drive him the rest of the way to his father’s town, the projected image of the moving train window makes us feel like we’re on that train with him.

The storytelling is both moving and fun and; serious and silly. The heart wrenching scene of his father’s family leaving for Canada on a ship – his father a small boy at the time – held up by his father as they stand at the railing, waving goodbye to the loved ones they leave behind. Punchinello makes an appearance, cheeky, full of fun – scrapping with Death by poking fun at seriousness in general and Paolozza’s pensiveness in particular. Even with the recognition of impermanence, Paolozzapedia celebrates life in its acknowledgement of nostalgia, memories of events both big and small – and reminds us to appreciate and cherish the sweet moments as they come.

Paolozzapedia is an entertaining, poignant love letter to roots, family and father. Go sit with Adam, have a coffee.

Paolozzapedia continues its run at the Theatre Centre Incubator space until May 24.

Be sure to check out these last two RISER Project shows; you can get advance tix online here.


The haunting beauty of porcelain – Clare Twomey’s Piece by Piece @ Gardiner Museum

3 original figurines
6 makers
2,000 replica statuettes

Artist Clare Twomey’s remarkable, interactive exhibit Piece by Piece is on now at the Gardiner Museum.

Inspired by the museum’s commedia dell’arte collection, Twomey and five other makers created molds of three figurines (Leda, Harlequin and Scaramouche) and produced 2,000 statuettes. The three originals stand in raised glass cases at one end of the exhibition room, facing the maker’s table opposite. In the taped off space between them, the replicas are situated on the floor. A path along the edges of the room takes the viewer on a journey around the exhibit, providing a 360° perspective of the spectacle.

The scores of white statuettes in the space between the maker and the original figurines are placed in evocative positions and groupings, calling to mind armies, intimate dancing couples and chorus lines, and even acrobatics. Some of them are grouped to hold others aloft, like a cheerleading squad or even a mosh pit; some are broken, missing their bases, arms or heads – a dichotomy between strength and fragility at play here.

As the statuettes are all unpainted – and most have not been glazed – the lighting in the exhibition space plays sharply about their contours, casting shadows on the floor and bringing them eerily to life. The effect is both beautiful and haunting.

At various times throughout the exhibit, a solo maker can be seen at work at the table, pouring porcelain into the molds, or opening molds to reveal a newly created piece. Take a look at the video:

Piece by Piece is on display (on the third floor of the museum) until January 4, 2015. On the final day of the exhibit, the museum will be staging a public intervention, during which the public will be invited to take a piece of the exhibit home. You can find more info, including priority registration here.

You can also follow the Gardiner Museum on Facebook and Twitter.