SummerWorks: Erotic, poetic & mytholgical journey in The Bull, the Moon and the Coronet of Stars

Ron Pederson & Daniela Vlaskalic

Sexual tension unfolds between two museum co-workers, as a strange, frightening and powerful presence stalks the museum halls. This is how the SummerWorks production of Van Badham’s The Bull, the Moon and the Coronet of Stars, directed by Vikki Anderson, begins.

Marion (Daniela Vlaskalic) is drawn to attractive men who are wrong for her – much to her chagrin – but she can’t help herself. When things don’t work out with co-worker Michael (Ron Pederson), she retreats into herself and off to Wales to teach drawing to a group of elderly ladies. And another man comes into her life (also played by Pederson).

Shifting from second-person narrative of their actions and feelings – through fantasy, dream imagery and mythology – to direct interaction, Vlaskalic and Pederson weave and wind out this tale of desire, betrayal and redemption. It is a lyrical, sexy, irreverently funny – and incredibly intelligent – good time.

Vlaskalic does a lovely job with Marion and her journey; smart, sensuous, vulnerable and courageous, following her heart into frightening, unknown territory. Pederson gives great performances as co-worker Michael, aloof and disinterested on the surface, masking a quiet life of desperation and surging passion; and as the randy sommelier Mark, a cheeky, womanizing party boy with a kind heart.

With shouts to Monica Dottor’s captivating, breathlessly heart-pounding choreography.

The Bull, the Moon and the Coronet of Stars is an erotic, poetic, primal piece of modern-day mythology.

The show continues its run at the Lower Ossington Theatre until Sun, Aug 17; see date/time details here.

Revelation & redemption – The Drowning Girls

When we enter the theatre, the three women are already onstage, splayed out in the semi-darkness in the three bathtubs. Drowned. The bathtubs emerge from jagged-toothed holes in the ground, yawned forth like coffins – each with a blank foot stone facing downstage. Vines snake around the shower plumbing above each tub. Beautiful white birch trees stand sentinel in the background. Silent witnesses.

The Drowning Girls, written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic, and directed for Alumnae Theatre Company by Taryn Jorgenson, opened last night in the studio space. The play is inspired by the real-life British murder case, dubbed The Brides in the Bath Case, which revealed how George Joseph Smith – under the guise of different names – married seven women between 1908 and 1914, swindling each of her savings and drowning three of the last four in the bath: Bessie, Alice and Margaret.

Lives horribly and tragically cut short by a man they loved and trusted, the three women tell their stories – reliving them along the way, and feeling all over again the elation, fear, anger and shame at being taken in. Each blaming herself for her fate. Moving from story to story, the three women move with dance-like precision through time and space, shifting in and out of a variety of characters – playful as cleaning ladies and Scotland Yard officers, and malevolent and ever-watchful as the husband murderer, who is also present in eerie whistled snatches of “Nearer My God To Thee.”

Jorgensen has a marvelous cast for this piece, with outstanding performances from Tennille Read (Bessie), Jennifer Neales (Alice) and Emily Opal Smith (Margaret) – each taking on multiple characters throughout, including the women’s killer husband. Read is dreamy, romance-loving and sensuous as the 33-year-old Bessie, surrendering to her adoration of Henry. Neales is playful, youthfully irreverent and naively daring as the 26-year-old Alice, ignoring her family’s protests as she is drawn to the “devil” George. And Smith’s 38-year-old Margaret is proper, prudish and full of longing, taken in by John’s promises of love and security. What all three women have in common is that they live in a time and place where women need a man for survival, and face strong social pressure to marry. And they don’t want to live out their lives alone as lonely, pitied spinsters.

And all acted in and around bathtubs – in water and under working showers. Each dons a wedding dress at the beginning of the play and as the play unfolds, each woman takes ownership of her story and casts aside the self-blame for how her story ended – the dresses cast off in the end as each curls up, relieved and relaxed, in her tub. And on the foot stones: Good Bye; Don’t Forget; Miss You.

Gripping, moving, playful and superbly performed, The Drowning Girls is a story of murdered women refusing to be victims and finding redemption in becoming their own storytellers.

For background info on the real-life murder case, check out Tina McCulloch’s posts from the Alumnae blog:

With shouts to assistant director Antara Keelor, producer Andy Fraser (assisted by Brenda Darling), stage manager Laura Paduch, ASM/sound op Jeremy Loughton and marketing/publicity/bloggergal Tina McCulloch, as well as design team Bec Brownstone (costumes), Rick Jones (sound), Jennifer Oliver (props), Mike Peck (master carpenter) and Ed Rosing (set and lighting). As always, a wonderful opening night reception nosh, helmed by Sandy Schneider, with Bev Atkinson, Razie Brownstone, Brenda Darling and Martha Spence.

The Drowning Girls runs at the Alumnae Theatre Studio until December 1, with a talkback with the director, cast and creative team following the Sunday, November 25 matinée. For reservations and more info:

Behind the scenes – the offstage plumbing
The onstage plumbing
Emily Opal Smith, Jennifer Neales & Tennille Read – photo by Dahlia Katz

Busy times @ Alumnae Theatre

Hey all. Busy times working in theatre in addition to the full-time job this week, and I was in Ottawa visiting friends last Friday/weekend – so haven’t been able to get out to see stuff. Wanted to give some shouts out to the beehive of activity that is Alumnae Theatre, though.

Lots going on at Alumnae this week – with the Toronto Irish Players’ production of Translations continuing its run on the main stage, work on the set for Alumnae’s upcoming production of The Drowning Girls going on up in the studio and callbacks for Alumnae’s January production of A Woman of No Importance going on wherever they can find space. I imagine the New Ideas production folks are around as well, as they get ready to review director submissions and do some match-making with the playwrights.

Here’s what I can tell you about what’s happening right now:

Translations, by Brian Friel – directed for the Toronto Irish Players by Jim Ivers and produced by Geraldine Brown – opened October 18 and runs until November 3. For info and reservations, please visit the TIP website:

The Drowning Girls, by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic, runs November 16 to December 1 up in the studio. Directed for Alumnae Theatre by Taryn Jorgenson, with assistant director Antara Keelor, this production features actors Jen Neales, Tennille Read and Emily Smith. And a fabulous set by designer Ed Rosing and master carpenter Mike Peck (who, along with Bill Scott, also rigged up the plumbing). Yes – there’s some seriously cool working plumbing in this show! For a peek at this show, take a look here:

Last night, Ed and I started painting sections of burlap while Mike finished work on the plumbing – and we were joined by producer Andy Fraser and Alum member Joan Burrows, who gave us a hand with starting the burlap installation on the floor. To be continued today and tomorrow, leaving time for the paint to dry before the actors hit the stage late tomorrow afternoon. Will be back with more on this job, including pics, soon.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend, all!