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.

 

Fond & foolish love & sport in Shakespeare BASH’d delightful, cheeky, passionate A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julia Nish-Lapidus. Photo by Eliza Martin.

 

Shakespeare BASH’d opens its 2019-20 season with its own take on a magical, wacky fun Shakespeare favourite with its production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Catherine Rainville and James Wallis, choreographed by John Wamsley, with music composition and direction by Hilary Adams—on for a short run at the Monarch Tavern. As fairies make sport of mortals, so too do royals make fun of commoners in this delightful, cheeky and passionate tale of love, transformation and jumping out of your comfort zone.

Theseus (a proud and regal Nick Nahwegahbow) and Hippolyta (Hilary Adams, in royal Amazon queen warrior form) are preparing for their wedding. A meeting with wedding planner Philostrate (a fastidious and fabulous John Wamsley) are interrupted when noble Egeus (Megan Miles, with intimidating, harsh, unforgiving my-way-or-the-highway parenting) arrives, requesting judgement on her daughter Hermia’s (a feisty and forthright Eliza Martin) disobedience regarding an arranged marriage to popular young noble Demetrius (Mussié Solomon, bringing an edge of slick arrogance to the player vibe). Hermia is in love with Lysander (a somewhat nerdy, but sweet, turn from Justin Mullen); meanwhile, Hermia’s best friend Helena (a vulnerable, yet crafty and resourceful Nyiri Karakas) is in love with Demetrius, who now scorns her. Theseus orders Hermia to obey her mother or else face death or life in a convent. Hermia and Lysander hatch a plan to flee Athens—which Helena divulges to Demetrius in hopes of winning his love—and the four young people end up lost in the woods.

Also in the woods are a group of Athenian tradespeople, gathered to rehearse a play they hope will be chosen as entertainment for the royal wedding. Amiable and organized director Peter Quince (Miles) assigns parts to Bottom (an adorably goofy, child-like turn from Julia Nish-Lapidus, bringing considerable clowning skills into play), Snug (Adams), Snout (Nahwegahbow) and Flute (Wamsley).

Unseen by the mortals in the forest, a battle of wills rages among the fairies, between its King Oberon (Kate McArthur, combining an imperious, passionate presence with a soft, romantic heart) and Queen Titania (a fierce and sensuous performance from Zara Jestadt). He wants the young Indian boy in her care as a page for himself; and she refuses, having adopted the boy when his votary mother died. Coming upon Demetrius repelling Helena’s attentions, Oberon orders Puck (a gently playful Michelle Mohammed) to fetch a magic flower, and use its juice to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. When Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, both young men now love Hermia—leading to strife and betrayal revealed for the two women, and the possibility of a mortal battle between the men. Oberon has also played with Titania, using the flower to make her fall in love with the next creature she sees—which turns out to be Bottom, who Puck has turned into a donkey! Learning of Puck’s mistake with the young lovers, Oberon orders her to make it right; and having secured the young Indian boy from Titania, releases her from his spell and Bottom from her donkey persona.

Emerging from the woods, the action shifts to the wedding and a play within the play, where the sorted out lovers are given blessings, and the tradesfolk are invited to perform their comical tragedy, to heckles from the nobles—and hilariously over-the-top performances from Bottom as the hero and Flute as the heroine; and shy, bumbling turns from the terrified Snug and slow-witted snout (outstanding comedic chops, with big LOLs from Adams, Nahwegahbow, Nish-Lapidus and Wamsley here).

Featuring minimal, but very effective costuming, props and set, the magic is highlighted by Adams’ otherworldly music composition and brisk, tight staging. It’s always a good time with Shakespeare BASH’d and its ensemble, with text and intention-focused, accessible productions that make for an enjoyable and engaging theatrical experience, as well as fresh and contemporary takes on the Shakespeare cannon. You may have seen this play before, but not like this.

Just as the fairies make sport of mortals, so too do the nobles with the commoners—all in good fun, with the magic creatures making things right, while the nobles appreciate the tradespeople’s’ passion and enthusiasm. The magic happens in the transformations—offering different perspectives that can change points of view, especially when one is thrown out of one’s comfort zone.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at the Monarch Tavern until November 17; please note the 7:00 pm curtain time. Advanced tickets are sold out, but if you come early, the good folks of Shakespeare BASH’d will try to squeeze you in (doors open at 6:30 pm).

ICYMI: Check out Arpital Ghosal’s interview with actor Zara Jestadt on SesayArts.

Up next for the company: A Very Merry Karaoke BASH’d (Friday, December 13 at 8:00 pm) at The Theatre Centre

Cymbeline (February 4-9) at Junction City Music Hall 

And a great chance to support a local theatre company: check out Shakespeare BASH’d’s Indiegogo campaign for the 2019-20 season.

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: