Good silly panto fun in Jack and the BeansTalk—A Merry Magical Pantomime

Torrent Productions presents its annual Coxwell/Gerrard neighbourhood holiday panto with Jack and the BeansTalk—A Merry Magical Pantomime, written and directed by Rob Torr, with music direction by Paul Moody and choreography by Stephanie Graham; running at Royal Canadian Legion Branch #001 (243 Coxwell Ave, Toronto, just south of Gerrard St. East). A missing treasured chicken, magic talking beans, a saucy Dame, a love-smitten young hero and a diabolical villain combine with song, dance, slapstick and wordplay for some good silly fun for all ages in this panto adaptation of a fairy tale classic.

When a banished, disenchanted Fairy (an adorably sweet and wry-witted Jamie McRoberts) catches wind that the Giant (voiced with menacing force by Cynthia Dale) has sent the evil villain Fleshcreep (Cyrus Lane, living up to the name and relishing the deliciously diabolical nastiness) to find a magic chicken that lays golden eggs, she begins to reclaim her magic and casts a spell to protect the chicken. This, however, doesn’t stop Fleshcreep from pressuring local Squire (played with regal dignity and moral conflict by William Fisher), who knows something about that chicken, to raise taxes on an already financially stressed population.

Local farmer Dame Trott (Greg Campbell in a saucy redhead Queen Mum meets Coronation Street maven turn) is at her wit’s end about how to pay the rent and instructs her son Jack (played with charismatic high energy by Caulin Moore) to sell their beloved cow Daisy (operated by Christopher Fulton and Tim Funnell, giving her eyelash-batting cuteness and swagger). In a series of tricky transactions, Jack ends up selling Daisy for a handful of talking beans! Meanwhile, the Squire’s daughter Jill (Teresa Tucci, with feisty determination and positivity) has been taken by the Giant. Good thing those beans, with the help of the Fairy, grow into a massive beanstalk that leads to the Giant’s castle—and Jack sets off to save Jill. Our hero is assisted throughout by the hilarious Ed #1 (Tim Funnell) and Ed #2 (Christopher Fulton), who entertain us and befuddle the bad guy.

Heroic deeds, secret plots, surprising revelations, and even a wedding, emerge; all accompanied by pop music favourites, some impressive hoofing and synchronized movement, and wacky slapstick and wordplay. And, of course, since this is a panto, audience participation is encouraged and appreciated. There’s a real community atmosphere with this production, with both the company and the folks from the neighbourhood making this an annual holiday tradition; and local business sponsors are shouted out throughout the performance, with live commercial spots.

Jack and the BeansTalk continues till December 29; please note the early curtain time of 7:00 pm for evening performances. Advance tickets available online, by calling 1-800-838-3006 or at the door.

Love letter to the universe – The De Chardin Project @ Theatre Passe Muraille

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Cyrus Lane & Maev Beaty – photo by Michael Cooper

“It’s a love story about the origins of the universe.”The De Chardin Project playwright Adam Seybold

When you enter the mainspace of Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) to see Adam Seybold’s Dora Mavor Moore-winning play The De Chardin Project, the space has been re-imagined, with the audience positioned around three sides of a central raised rectangular playing space, framed – like a box without sides. The colours red and black predominate; a single bare light bulb hangs in the centre and several focused beams of light shine onto the floor from above. Centre stage, a man in a black suit lies on his stomach. Still. An otherworldly soundtrack plays, like wind chimes – industrial and celestial at the same time. And something else. Wind? Water? Both. The music crescendos into a thunderstorm. The man stirs. And rises, wondering where he is, the soundscape evoking the haze of emerging consciousness.

Directed by Alan Dilworth, The De Chardin Project mines the life and experiences of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), geologist, paleontologist and Jesuit priest, a man devoted to the study of rocks and bones in a passionate effort to understand the origins of the universe. A man of God and a man of science, his refusal to renounce evolution theory – and reconcile it with creationism – gained negative attention from Rome and forced his order to exile him to China, where he participated in the discovery of the Peking Man. Seybold’s script excavates the personal for the universal – and no matter where you stand on the origins of the universe, the result is a fascinating and emotional experience.

De Chardin (Cyrus Lane) is dying from a cerebral hemorrhage, a broken tea cup on the floor the only artifact of his life in the space he now occupies. He is like Schrodinger’s cat in the box – both alive and dead. From a trap door in the floor, a woman appears. She is his Guide (Maev Beaty), who sets out to usher him through seminal moments of his life in order to piece it back together.

Lane is luminous as de Chardin, scholarly and confident but not arrogant, quick-witted and driven. We see a man full of love – for God, the universe. Everything. Lonely in the space between creationism and evolution theory, and sad that he cannot touch that which he seeks – yet optimistic in the face of rejection and misunderstanding, even as he struggles to be so. Beaty is lovely as the Guide, cryptic but warm and open. Also tasked with playing various characters from de Chardin’s life, she gives a remarkable performance throughout, portraying people of various ages, genders and nationalities. As de Chardin’s friend and colleague Lucille, an American artist, she is beautifully sharp and irreverently funny. Like de Chardin, she is full of longing, but more grounded in the physical present than reaching through time and space for that which she cannot grasp.

The four elements figure prominently in this production – especially fire. Fire as an object of fear, transformation, destruction, illumination, desire and symbol. The spark of creation. The elements are incorporated into the remarkable set design, with various trap doors housing props, furniture and even spaces: an excavation site, a pitcher of water, a candle. Shouts to Lorenzo Savoini (production design) and Thomas Ryder Payne (sound design).

The De Chardin Project is a profoundly moving and human exploration of faith and science, love and the search for meaning in the universe.

Speaking as a recovering Catholic, I was left both moved and intrigued, my eyes wet and mind full. But that’s just me – you’ll have to go see for yourself. Let me know what you think. In the meantime, take a look at some behind the scenes moments here:

The De Chardin Project continues its run at the TPM mainspace until December 14. Go see this.