Nostalgia meets the ghosts of memory in the funny, poignant, authentically human New Magic Valley Fun Town

Caroline Gillis, Andrew Moodie, Daniel MacIvor & Stephanie MacDonald. Set design by Brian Perchaluk. Costume design by Brenda McLean. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

 

Prairie Theatre Exchange and Tarragon Theatre join forces to present the Toronto premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s New Magic Valley Fun Town, directed by Richard Rose, assisted by Audrey Dwyer; opening last night in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. Equal parts funny and poignant, it’s an authentically human story of nostalgia and ghosts of the past as the kitchen party reunion between two childhood friends reveals some unwelcome memories.

In small-town Nova Scotia, cancer survivor Dougie (Daniel MacIvor) lives in a spotless double-wide trailer, separated from his wife Cheryl (Caroline Gillis), who’s stayed in their family home in town. Their young adult daughter Sandy (Stephanie MacDonald) is on a break from her English lit thesis to manage some mental health issues. Dougie is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Allen (Andrew Moodie), a friend from childhood and one of the few Black residents of the town back in the day, who moved on to become an English professor at U of T.

Dougie and Allen haven’t seen each other for 35 years, and their reunion—initially rife with awkward excitement, vintage music, drinking and dancing—takes a dark turn as painful, secret memories emerge. Dougie is dealing with his sense of mortality and Allen needs to get something off his chest; and lifelong feelings of deep-seated anger, shame and longing bubble to the surface.

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Daniel MacIvor & Andrew Moodie. Set design by Brian Perchaluk. Costume design by Brenda McLean. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Beautiful performances from this ensemble, enacting a marathon of emotional experience and responses. MacIvor is a compelling, high-energy presence as the tightly wound Dougie; obsessively neat and wanting things to be perfect for Allen, Dougie appears to have channelled his nervous energy into preparations for the visit—but we learn that this behaviour pre-dates his cancer diagnosis, going back to adolescence. Moodie’s calm, introspective Allen is equally gripping; perfectly complementing the frenetic Dougie, the emotionally contained Allen is bursting with the buried feelings of distant, disturbing memories—memories that are excavated and brought to the surface during this fateful visit, and intersect with his experience of being Black in a small town.

Gillis is loveably quirky and as the cheerful, attentive Cheryl; a protective wife and mother who’s at a loss as to how to help her husband and daughter, her positive demeanour masks the pain within, and she finds solace and community in the local Catholic church. MacDonald gives a hilariously playful, irreverent and sweetly poignant performance as Sandy; a post-grad student with the heart of a poet, Sandy is navigating her own illness, even as she continues to reach out to connect with her ailing father.

The classic 70s vintage vibe of Brian Perchaluk’s set design and Don Benedictson’s original music and sound design (those of a certain age were singing along with the pre-show tunes) combine nicely with Brenda McLean’s modern-day costume design, and the realism and cathartic magic of Kim Purtell’s lighting.

Each of these characters is reaching out for connection from a place of profound aloneness. And, while the deeper meaning of the titular amusement park of childhood memory is revealed—not new, magic, a valley, fun or a town—there’s strength and resilience in the present, and hope for the future, as these characters move towards light and closure.

New Magic Valley Fun Town continues in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until March 31; get advance tickets online or contact the box office at 416-531-1827.

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Cinematic, diabolically fun trip to the dark side – Cine Monstro @ PROGRESS fest

CineMTop-620x372A kid who’s fascination with his weird next door neighbours turns to morbid fixation following a horrific event in their home.

A boyfriend and girlfriend constantly fight as she longs for marriage and a baby, and he gropes for an unknown something that’s just out of reach.

A recovering addict drawn to screenwriting envisions an edgy, quirky love story featuring an eerily familiar flashback scene.

Appalled by his own script, a filmmaker brings his film shoot to an abrupt halt in an effort to disengage from – and disown – the darkness portrayed.

All hosted by the devilishly charming narrator Adam, his Puck-like mischievousness tinged with malevolence.

White flats stretch across expanse of the playing space upstage, serving as a screen for the projected atmospheric and scenic images. A clear plastic chair with an accompanying glass table, bearing mostly glasses of water and one glass of red wine, sits centre stage. It is here that performer/producer/co-translator/co-director Enrique Diaz spends most of the play – but only after hanging out with the audience a while, and then offering an introduction and instructions as to how the play will begin.

Which all happens when he rides a red tricycle around the stage and the lights go to black out. We have begun.

This is Cine Monstro, a Portuguese translation (by way of Brazil) of Daniel MacIvor’s Monster, translated Barbara Duvivier with Diaz, directed by Marcio Abreu and presented/curated by Why Not Theatre for SummerWorks’ inaugural PROGRESS international festival of performance and ideas at the Theatre Centre.

It was my first time seeing this play – in any language – and my initial concern about splitting my attention between the English surtitles and the action onstage was quickly dispelled. Cine Monstro is a dynamic, sight and sound-filled trip. And I’ll never hear “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (which folks may remember from the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film soundtrack) again.

Diaz is an engaging and compelling storyteller, skillfully weaving in and out of the various characters and scenarios with truth and a sense of the present, balancing light and dark with the warmth of his voice and the sharpness in his eyes.

Following last night’s performance, Why Not Theatre A.D. Ravi Jain moderated a talkback with Diaz and MacIvor, who took questions from Jain and the audience, as well as a brief interview (in English and Portuguese) with Omni TV. And it was Jain who was the connecting thread between the two artists.

MacIvor described the process of creating Monster, taking inspiration from the film world, reading The Fifth Child, the impending birth of a friend’s baby, among other things. Diaz first saw MacIvor perform in two-hander In on It in New York, and was fascinated by the layers, structure and humour of the piece – and the work the audience must do in the process of watching.

Last night was the first time MacIvor saw Cine Monstro, and while he seems to be less comfortable with interpretations of his one-person shows in general (which are more his babies, as he both wrote and performed them), he is pleased with this production and marvelled at Diaz’s multitasking. Diaz described his experience as an exercise in relaxing into the piece, focusing on the text and getting any sense of ego out of the way.
Jain remarked how present the text is when one is watching a show with surtitles: “we engage with the ideas in a different way – engaging with the text itself.” Diaz was nervous about whether the audience would follow the show, with their attention divided between the watching the action and reading the text (translated back from Portuguese to English, while maintaining the original English script) – but we were fine.

The question of language rhythm came up: was it an issue with the translation? This didn’t seem to factor into the show as much as what the actor brings to the performance. MacIvor spoke of approaching it differently – with tension and rapid pacing, barely moving from the chair throughout his performance. He also remarked how he found Diaz’s interpretation warmer in tone, with a stronger placement in the film world – especially evidenced by the “Cine” in the title of the translation, which reveals Diaz’s intention to immerse the audience in the story. Diaz worked with the translation as an actor, and seems to have taken an organic approach, as opposed to focusing on the rhythm of the language per se.

An audience member asked about the reception in Brazil, as the origins of the piece are very Canadian. Diaz found that cultural differences were not an issue, as the audience engaged with the characters’ experiences and the themes of the storytelling. Nor were there any issues of regional differences as Diaz performed the piece around Brazil. This is storytelling at its best – so these findings are not so surprising. Good storytelling is good storytelling.

Another audience member wondered if having an original work interpreted by others around the world represented a shift in MacIvor’s work – a “revisiting of the Canadian cannon,” as it were. Whether this is an overly optimistic outlook or not, with Cine Monstro, Diaz has made the piece his own and has introduced MacIvor’s theatrical storytelling to a whole new audience.

With shouts to the design team: Simone Mina (set), Batman Zavareze and Nathalie Melot (video), Maneco Quindere (lights) and Lucas Marcier (music).

Cine Monstro is a diabolically funny trip into the flickering dark and light of the destructive side of the human spirit.

You have one last chance to see Cine Monstro: tonight (Sat, Feb 14) at 8p.m. – the place was packed last night, so I strongly suggest that you book ahead. In the meantime, check out the Cine Monstro trailer on the Why Not Theatre website.

 

PROGRESS announcement: Cine Monstro talk back with MacIvor & Diaz following Feb 13 performance

CineMTop-620x372The folks at PROGRESS announced today a not to be missed event following the February 13 performance of Cine Monstro, the Portuguese adaptation of Daniel MacIvor’s much lauded play (translated by Barbara Duvivier and Enrique Diaz), Monster: a talk back featuring playwright Daniel MacIvor and director/performer/co-translator Enrique Diaz.

A dynamic, one-man piece of storytelling, Cine Monstro weaves “a series of storylines that link multiple characters to one unsettling event.”

Created in Brazil, Cine Monstro is presented/curated in partnership with Why Not Theatre with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Cine Monstro runs February 12-14 at the Theatre Centre; the piece will be performed in Portuguese with English subtitles. You can get advance tix online.

Toronto Fringe: Karie Richards’ birdy – a moving & brave piece of storytelling

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Karie Richards – photo by Lesley Marino

I kicked off this year’s Toronto Fringe with a solo show: Karie Richards’ birdy … or how not to disappear at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre.

Directed by Jeff Culbert and created by Richards during a Playfinding Master Class with Daniel MacIvor at The Banff Centre, birdy is a brave and touching piece of storytelling.

Performing solo, on a naked stage and with no props, Richards speaks to us as “birdy,” an anxious and fragile – but extremely positive and empathetic – woman who longs to do good for, and make connections with, others. As birdy struggles to calm her inner turmoil, her lightness of voice and presence is both soothing and eerie, her smile at times masking deep anger and confusion about the callousness of the world around her.

While birdy’s take on life is very specific to her situation, we can all relate to how she feels. Featuring a lovely a cappella performance of the song “Come to Me,” written by Casey Hurt, and stories from childhood memory and daily life, birdy is moving piece of storytelling – powerful in its fragility and strong in its vulnerability.

birdy runs at the Helen Gardiner until July 13 – check the birdy page on the Toronto Fringe website for dates and times.

 

 

Life, love & loss in a funny & touching family reunion – Marion Bridge @ Village Playhouse

MB_PosterDropped by the Village Playhouse on Sunday afternoon to see the Village Players’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge, directed by Greg Nowlan.

Three sisters reunite at their Cape Breton family home to be with their dying divorced mother: Agnes, a struggling actress who’s been living in Toronto; Theresa, a nun whose order runs a farm in New Brunswick; and Louise, who stayed at home. Family history and present-day challenges converge in this funny, touching play – told with humour, honesty and heart.

Returning to the stage after a 10-year absence, Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt gives an outstanding performance as the fiery, strong-willed – and at times petulant – oldest sister Agnes, the “unconventional girl” in the family, struggling with alcohol and an acting career that’s going nowhere and leaving her broke. Lorene Stanwick does a lovely job with Theresa, the cool-headed, responsible middle sister, a wry-witted and sensitive nun facing personal trials of her own. And Anne van Leeuwen is delightful as the “strange” youngest sister Louise, child-like, straight-talking and longing to belong. All three actors do a stand-up job of capturing the sibling dynamic, at times shifting into childish interaction, the sisters’ individual roles in the family set long ago. All three sisters are lost, searching and bracing themselves for the coming loss.

Kudos to voice-over performers Erin Jones and David Borwick for their portrayals of Kara and Justin, two characters from the fictitious soap Ryan’s Cove, a favourite TV show of Louise’s that becomes a sibling diversion.

Marion Bridge is nicely staged on a minimalist kitchen set (designed by Steve Minnie) that evokes the place, and lets the actors and action take prominence – and filled with a beautiful, lyrical regional soundtrack (designed by Richard Green), including, of course, “Song for the Mira” at the end of the play.

Life, love and loss with three feisty Cape Breton sisters – the Village Players’ Marion Bridge is a lovely bit of storytelling.

Marion Bridge continues its run at the Village Playhouse this week Wed – Sat (closing Mar 22). Sunday was sold out, so I’d book ahead if I were you: 416-767-7102.

Happy holidays!

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My wee Xmas tree, lit up in the dark.

Hi all –

It’s full-on holiday hustle and bustle, with gatherings and errands galore! Wanted to send out a quick note to say that I’m still here, I just needed to take care of a few things, which left me no time to post over the past little while. Hope you’ve been enjoying the reblogging of some other fabulous bloggers in the meantime.

Here’s what I’ve been up to (in addition to the f/t office job as a copy editor, which has been super busy the past couple of weeks, and some fabulous holiday gatherings, and arts and culture):

Rehearsing and reading in Siobhán Dungan’s radio comedy The Receptionist, which featured 8 actors reading 120 characters, and a violinist – we did that on Dec 6 at Innis Town Hall and had a blast!

Auditioning for the Village Players’ upcoming production of Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge (directed by Greg Nowlan, running Feb 28 – Mar 22). I made it to callbacks and didn’t get cast, but really looking forward to seeing this.

I’ve been working as a scenic artist with set designer Ed Rosing on Alumnae Theatre’s upcoming production of Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning (directed by Jane Carnwath, running Jan 24 – Feb 8 on the mainstage).

Seeing amazing arts events like The Gay Heritage Project (Buddies In Bad Times), Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (The Central) and Lizzie Violet’s Poetry Open Mic (Amsterdam Bicycle Club).

Coming up soon:

The great pleasure of a photo shoot with Lisa MacIntosh on Saturday.

I’ll also finally be doing an interview with writer/poet/editor/horror aficionado and cabaret mistress extraordinaire Lizzie Violet.

And, of course, we’re now a week away from Christmas Eve, so the countdown is on!

Happy holidays, all! xo

Howling at the moon in Daniel MacIvor’s I, Animal

Finally. Got out to see my first SummerWorks show last night: Daniel MacIvor’s I, Animal – directed by Richie Wilcox and produced by KAZAN CO-OP – at the Factory Theatre mainspace, where I bumped into Alumnae Theatre pals Anne Harper and Brenda Somers, who were there volunteering at the box office.

I, Animal is a series of three monologues, set everywhere and nowhere in that the set (designed by Victoria Marston, with lighting design by Ingrid Risk, doing double duty as stage manager) is not a space that reflects everyday reality. Consisting of an upstage centre floor to ceiling vertical panel of crumpled foil, indented with crater-like openings, with a panel of gauze-like fabric in front of it, the set creates a all-purpose playing space through which the characters move and in which each pauses to tell his or her story, shifting back and forth from past to present as the monologue unfolds. Theatrical as opposed to realistic. The soundscapes (sound design by Aaron Collier) shift as well, from character to character. As the audience enters the theatre, there is a light layer of fog hovering above the stage floor, drifting over light and shadow – and as the play progressed, I had the impression that we were both gazing at the moon and on the moon.

“Man in Scrubs” (Antonio Cayonne) appears with a leash, his dog off frolicking and mounting other dogs. As a queer male nurse of colour with a limited bank account, this is a young man who has an extremely broad – and personal – experience of the social and professional pecking order, and the nuances therein. Normally a good-humoured, decent and tolerant guy, he finds his patience and good nature pushed to the limit while out at dinner with a group of gay male colleagues, where the hierarchy – and socially enforced homogenization – of the pack becomes unbearable and forces him to challenge the leader. And when he strikes out, we understand even if we don’t agree. You are what you say you are – no one else can own or define you.

“Boy in hoodie” (Stewart Legere) is a high school student who digs death metal and photographing cats. Seems he thinks about death a lot, fascinated by it even, but his musings are more of a curious, philosophical nature than morbid. With a reasonably good relationship with his mom and step-dad, the latter who he calls by his first name and with whom he shares regular “conversation” (a personal euphemism for smoking weed), this kid has gained a dubious reputation over a photograph of a dead cat. This evokes revulsion and morbid curiosity among his friends and classmates at his new high school, including a popular cheerleader. Did he kill the cat? Following an encounter with the cheerleader, he decides that he can choose to create the reality of himself in the eyes of others based on what he tells them – defining himself by his words and not by his actions, he will be the author of his own identity.

“Woman in Prada” (Kathryn MacLellan, also the producer along with costume designer/co-producer and sister Janet MacLellan) has left her friends, including her younger boyfriend, at the villa where they’ve been vacationing. Having grown up a city girl in a time when city living didn’t have the level of amenities it has now, she became a suburban housewife – domesticated – and, having since left that marriage and situation, now finds herself adrift. An attractive, sensual woman who adores living the good life, and with money of her own, she is well-aware of the importance of social optics and is deeply concerned that acting on her desire to be with a younger man will make her appear foolish. Hurtful words from a friend force her to choose between doing what makes her happy and what other people think she should be doing.

The two male monologues are the strongest of the piece in terms of the writing, and the cast does a lovely job of shading these characters’ vulnerability and frustration, all tempered with humour – real, raw, funny and smart. Cayonne does a nice job of revealing his character’s rage, at first relatively contained then exploding to the surface, and finally withdrawing in shock, trying to make sense of his actions. Legere gives us many levels of a youth on the brink of manhood, fascinated by death yet savouring life while trying to eke out an identity in the jungle social hierarchy that is high school. And MacLellan’s Prada lady is equal parts brassy and broken, outspoken but secretly afraid of what people might think, pacing like a gorgeous caged cat as she tries to make sense of her life.

Just look at that moon. In I, Animal the image of the moon, both a call of the wild and a soothing, magical element – masculine and feminine – and the concept of identity are the through-lines, the links that connect the three individual pieces. Howl at it. Explore it. Wish upon it. On the way home, I looked up at the sky.

For more info on playwright Daniel MacIvor, check out his website: http://www.danielmacivor.com/

And you can find KAZAN CO-OP here: http://www.kazanco-op.com/