Head & heart, & two sisters in love in the delightful, youthful Sense & Sensibility

Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick: Conor Ling, Jackie Mahoney & Tamara Freeman

Amicus Productions takes us to the early 1800s England of Jane Austen with Jessica Swale’s adaptation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, directed by Maureen Lukie, assisted by Ted Powers, and currently running in the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills.

Mrs. Dashwood (Peta Bailey) and her daughters Elinor (Tamara Freeman), Marianne (Jackie Mahoney) and Margaret (Sara Douglas) have just learned that their beloved husband and father has died. Adding insult to injury, their Norland Park estate is being taken over by the Dashwood male heir John (Andrew Horbatuik) and his wife Fanny (Mandi Sunshine), and they must now find a place to live. During the transfer of ownership, Fanny’s brother Edward (Conor Ling) comes to visit, and an attachment forms between him and Elinor. With high and rich family hopes for Edward’s marriage, Fanny blocks the relationship just as the Dashwood women learn of a cottage that’s available on the estate of a relative in Devonshire. And Elinor and Edward barely have a chance to say goodbye.

It’s an extreme downscale for the Dashwoods; they can bring no horses and only one servant (Horbatuik as Thomas). But they find a great, warm welcome from the high-spirited, eccentric Sir John (Rob Candy) and his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Jenn Keay). And their quiet cottage life gets interesting with the appearance of Sir John’s friend Colonel Brandon (Matthew Payne) and a dashing young noble Willoughby (Rouvan Silogix), who rescues Marianne after a fall. Both have eyes for Marianne, but Marianne only has eyes for Willoughby, who returns her attentions with romantic gestures and implications of marriage.

Marianne’s bliss is short-lived, though, as Willoughby gets sent to London by his wealthy aunt. And Brandon has some distressing information about Willoughby’s history, which he confides to Elinor. Meanwhile, in her never-ending crusade to find husbands for the two older Dashwood sisters, Mrs. Jennings plans a trip to London to enjoy the balls and diversions of the season. And things get even more complicated for Elinor when their travel companion Lucy Steele (Riley Nelson) confesses a secret four-year-old engagement with Edward!

Things go from bad to worse in London when the Dashwood sisters have an unpleasant, awkward encounter with Willoughby at a ball, and learn via neighbourhood gossips (Lindsay Bryan and Sharon Kamiel) that he is engaged to the wealthy Miss Grey (Bryan). On their way home, escorted by Brandon, Elinor and Marianne stop at the home of Mrs. Jennings’ daughter Mrs. Palmer (Bryan) and Mr. Palmer (Horbatuik), where Marianne comes down with a life-threatening infection.

But don’t worry, the girls get home safe and new, happier revelations emerge.

There is a youthful edge to this adaptation; full of heart and charm. For those familiar with the book and the film adaptation by Emma Thompson, directed by Ang Lee, Swale has added some scenes that we would previously have only guessed at. One in particular highlights Willoughby’s misery at his reliance on a rich relation, and his regret at choosing money over love.

With shouts to the design team: Arash Eshghpour (set), Karlos Griffith (lighting), Dave Fitzpatrick (sound) and Lindsay Forde (costume); and to choreographer Karen Millyard.

Lovely work from the cast in this nicely staged adaptation; the scenes weaving in and out, shifting in time and space with well-paced precision—shouts to director Lukie and stage manager Cherie Oldenburg.

Stand-out performances include Freeman’s Elinor; a complex, layering of sensible, kind, discreet and accommodating, coupled with deeply felt emotional responses and heroic efforts to keep them in check. Throughout, Elinor is the confessor; hearing many secrets and troubles, but unable to divulge them, including the secrets of her own heart. Mahoney’s Marianne is the polar opposite of Elinor; high-spirited and stubborn, she has a passionate soul and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her romantic tendencies get a harsh dose of reality, but rather than being destroyed, she is tempered and becomes more circumspect. And Douglas’s Margaret is charming; an adorably precocious, whip-smart naturalist in the making, she sees more than the grown-ups think and doesn’t have their internal editor at play.

Ling gives a great turn as the painfully shy, bookish and affable Edward; and he does hilarious double duty as Edward’s buffoonish younger brother Robert. Candy and Keay are a laugh riot as the dynamic duo chatterboxes—the jolly and sociable Sir John and the one-woman OkCupid Mrs. Jennings—always up on the latest gossip and ready for a party. And nice work from Payne as the honourable, wounded and introspective Brandon; Silogix’s cheeky, handsome romantic Willoughby; and Sunshine’s waspish, greedy Fanny.

Head and heart, and two sisters in love in the delightful, youthful Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility continues at the Papermill Theatre until Feb 11; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

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An exclusive murder mystery weekend gets real in the darkly funny, surprising A Party to Murder

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Clockwise from bottom: Trevor Cartlidge, Liam Doherty, Lawrie Hopkinson, Haley Vincent, Michael Hunter & Madeleine Spadafora in A Party to Murder – photo by Dave Fitzpatrick

You are cordially invited to an exclusive murder mystery weekend this Halloween at a secluded upscale cottage at a secret location.

The Village Players are currently running A Party to Murder, by Douglas E. Hughes and Marcia Kash, directed by Rob Woodcock, at their home the Village Playhouse (Bloor St. West, a bit east of Runnymede). It’s the second show of their all-Canadian season; I caught yesterday’s matinee.

We open on a melodramatic Agatha Christie-esque scene of whodunnit, part of a by invitation only game hosted by mystery novelist Charles (Liam Doherty) at Hadfield House, his lush cottage retreat on a private island on Cassandra Lakes, Ontario. The area, we learn, is infamous for its ties to the mysterious case of the Phantom Five, five business titans who went missing 25 years ago.

Among Charles’ guests are business mogul Elwood (Michael Hunter) and his much younger companion McKenzie (Madeleine Spadafora); Valerie (Lawrie Hopkinson) and Henri (Haley Vincent), sisters who’ve inherited their family utility business; and former football star Willy (Trevor Cartlidge), now confined to a wheel chair after a car accident.

The one who guesses the murderer wins a lavish prize, furnished via the sizeable entry free all guests are required to pay. When Elwood is pronounced the winner and decides to exact a favour from each of the others, things get tense and interesting – especially when Elwood turns up dead soon after.

Now faced with an actual murder mystery, the group is stuck on the island with no phone or cell service; they must wait until the water taxi returns to pick them up the next day. And when a journal linking the cottage to the Phantom Five is discovered and a second member of the group drops dead, the stakes get even higher.

Like the novelist host in the play, A Party to Murder is inspired by the works of Agatha Christie (who receives homage via the large photograph featured prominently on the upstage wall) – full of twists, turns and surprises. And loads of whodunnit fun.

Really nice work from the cast in this exciting tale of intrigue and murder. Doherty gives British expat Charles a dry, Coward-esque wit. A novelist of some repute and a sharp observer of human behaviour, he’s an extremely affable host, arranging everything himself, including cooking the gourmet meals. While we first see her as the humble housemaid in the mystery role play, Hopkinson gives Valerie a decidedly dragon lady edge; a powerful CEO with a shrewd business mind and a wry wit. Vincent’s Henri is the polar opposite of Valerie, with some interesting layers; anxious and wary, there’s an inquisitive mind and a drive for the truth under that submissive exterior. And her role play medium character has hilarious hints of Madame Arcati.

As Elwood, Hunter brings a self-satisfied, near sociopathic, sense of entitlement and aloofness; a jealous, possessive man with a quick temper, he relishes his power over others. Spadafora’s McKenzie is a great combination of lady of leisure and survivor; a professional model and personal ornament to Elwood, her life isn’t as fairytale as it appears. And Cartlidge’s Willy may be a cocky, wise-cracking jock, but his intensely negative reaction to the prospect of being under Elwood’s thumb gives pause, as does his ongoing gallows humour.

One gets the feeling that everyone has a secret – but is it a lethal one?

With big shouts to the design team for the gorgeous environment and atmospheric effects, complete with a secret passage, a storm, flickering lights and fabulous outfits: Katherine Bignell-Jones (set), Sue Gilck (sound), Dustin Woods-Turner (lighting), Rosemary McGillivray (props) and Jennifer Newnham (costumes).

An exclusive murder mystery weekend gets real in the darkly funny, surprising A Party to Murder. My friends and I had a great time.

Party to Murder continues at the Village Playhouse until Nov 26; check here for full performance date/time info. Tickets can also be purchased 45 minutes before curtain time at the box office; or you can call to reserve: 416-767-7702.

You can keep up with the Village Players on Twitter and Facebook.

Love, revenge & calculated cruelty in the sexy, darkly funny & tragic Les Liaisons Dangereuses

 

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Renee Cullen (Merteuil) & Chris Coculuzzi (Valmont) – photos by Dave Fitzpatrick

Amicus Productions opened its 2016-17 season with Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Victoria Shepherd, at the Todmorden Mills Papermill Theatre last night.

An edgy, erotic, sometimes chilling story of manipulation, desire and social gamesmanship, Amicus’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays out on a traditional proscenium stage, complete with drawn curtains, on a minimalist but gorgeous chess-inspired set (Alexis Chubb), with stunning period costume and wigs (Lindsay Forde), and sound design that includes original compositions (John Stuart Campbell, ft. Vivien Shepherd on vocals).

The Marquise de Merteuil (Renée Cullen) wants revenge against a former lover, and turns to another former lover, the notorious Vicomte de Valmont (Chris Coculuzzi), with a plan for him to seduce the man’s intended fiancée, the young Cécile Volange (Christina Leonard). In exchange, Merteuil promises Valmont a night of passion. Valmont has seduction plans of his own, however; he intends to bed the pious, loyal and married Présidente de Tourvel (Melanie Leon), a woman equally famous for her virtue as he is for his vice.

When his plans at his aunt’s home (Mme de Rosemond, played by Jenn Keay) are foiled by Cecile’s mother Mme de Volange (Kerrie Lamb), Valmont decides to go along with Merteuil’s plan, as the two also conspire to assist Cécile in her secret romance with the young Chevalier Danceny (Conor Ling). Meanwhile, Valmont has set his man servant Azolan (Andrew Batten) to spy on Tourvel, via his relationship with her maid; all this while paying regular visits to his favourite courtesan Émilie (Lindsay Forde). Constantly put off by Merteuil, Valmont goes to great lengths to procure payment for his services to her – and finds himself tangled in his own web.

Cullen and Coculuzzi are nicely matched as Merteuil and Valmont, who are both cunning as cats and master manipulators. Cullen’s Merteuil is coldly beautiful and ruthless; a woman tired of the second-class status afforded to her sex, she’s learned to take power by making pawns of those around her. Coculuzzi is diabolically charming and witty as Valmont; a sexy beast who’s gained notoriety as a callous rake (i.e., heartbreaking man whore), Valmont enjoys the game – but, unlike Merteuil, he’s more about the chase than the kill. As Tourvel, Leon brings a lovely sense of conflict and repressed lust; a gentle, pious soul, she is drawn to Valmont – and as much as she fights her feelings, she can’t help but succumb to the burgeoning passion between them. Some remarkable two-hander scenes, particularly in Act II, between Merteuil and Valmont (war) and Valmont and Tourvel (beyond my control).

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Chris Coculuzzi (Valmont) & Melanie Leon (Tourvel)

Leonard gives Cécile a great combination of wide-eyed innocence and insatiable lust; schooled by Valmont, she learns things that aren’t taught to nice young ladies. And Ling’s Danceny is adorably awkward and proper; on the brink of manhood, he is innocent and naïve – and he too learns a thing or two.

Excellent work from the supporting cast: Lamb’s prim and trusting Mme de Volange; Batten’s wry-witted and resourceful Azolan; Keay’s wise and kind Mme de Rosemonde, who’s onto more than you might think; Forde’s good times party girl Émilie; and Jeff Burke gives a nice turn as the Major-Domo, who’s seen so much and says so little.

Love, revenge and calculated cruelty in the sexy, darkly funny and tragic Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses continues at the Papermill Theatre until Nov 19; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

A charming, joyful celebration of life & love in Sabrina Fair

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Linus (Chris Coculuzzi), Sabrina (Amy LeBlanc) and David (Adam Brooks) are reunited in Sabrina Fair – photo by Dave Fitzpatrick

Amicus Productions gave the audience a magical evening of storytelling at Todmorden Mills Papermill Theatre last night with their production of Samuel Taylor’s Sabrina Fair, directed by Victoria Shepherd.

From its first moments, where ensemble actors Diana Franz and Meara Khanna open with a once-upon-a-time prologue, to the final discovery and acknowledgement of true feelings, Sabrina Fair is an engaging – and socially astute – piece of theatre. Not a mere 20th century rom com, Taylor’s play – and Amicus’s interpretation – is a combination of silly and sublime, as the story explores class and gender, and being true to oneself in the shifting social landscape of the early 1950s.

Shepherd has assembled a delightful cast for this theatrical adventure, with several stand-outs. Amy LeBlanc is a shimmering bundle of energy and wonder as Sabrina, a romantic realist, inspired by poetry and the excitement of the new and undiscovered – totally in love with the world even as she struggles to find her place in it. Chris Coculuzzi’s Linus is nicely layered; a man of panache and wit with killer business instincts – the tin man puppet master who’s forced to find his heart. Peter Bloch-Hansen is a treat as Mr. Larrabee, the somewhat befuddled family patriarch, whose bizarre hobby of attending funerals serves as a touchstone of certainty in a world he no longer understands. As his wife Maude, Sandra Cardinal is more self-aware than at first glance, with her sharp-witted – if not put upon – observations of society and family. And Heather Goodall, as Maude’s long-time chum Julia, hits just the right notes as the stylish, professional socialite, her self-possessed, well put-together exterior masking the vulnerability and loneliness beneath the surface. Nice work from Adam Brooks as Linus’s impetuous, boyish younger brother David; and Jeff Burke does a lovely job as Fairchild, Sabrina’s father and the family chauffeur, an extremely well-read man who’s full of surprises himself. All supported by a fine group of ensemble players.

With shouts to Alexis Chubb’s light, minimalist set design: the Larrabee’s garden patio, which is especially beautiful during the evening party scene, with its suspended multi-coloured lanterns and votive candles. And to Meredith Hubbard’s stunning costume design, which brings the palette and silhouette of this period – and this world – to life, especially with Sabrina’s and Julia’s frocks.

Amicus Productions’ Sabrina Fair is a charming, joyful celebration of life and love in a changing world.

Sabrina Fair continues its run at the Papermill Theatre until February 7, with matinée performances on February 1 and 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 regular and $20 seniors/students – available online or by phone at 416-860-6176.

Get yourself out for a wonderful time at the theatre. And, in case you were wondering – yes, this is the play that inspired the film Sabrina and the 1995 remake. In the meantime, check out the Amicus trailer:

And take a look at the interview with Amy LeBlanc.

Department of Corrections: Due to a last-minute casting change, one of the two prologue actors was incorrectly identified as Amaka Umeh and should have been noted as Diana Franz; this has been corrected.

Amicus Productions’ Cyrano De Bergerac a highly entertaining & moving adventure in wit, swordplay & love

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Valvert (Scott Simpson) challenges Cyrano (Chris Coculuzzi) to a duel.

Spent a highly entertaining afternoon at The Papermill Theatre (Todmorden Mills, 67 Pottery Rd.) yesterday, with Amicus Productions’ performance of Cyrano De Bergerac, written by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Chris Coculuzzi and Roxanne Deans, and directed by Mary Dwyer (Toronto Fringe fans may have seen their marvelous 80-minute memory play version of Cyrano, performed outdoors at the 2004 fest).

Amicus does a really nice job with this classic tale of the mercurial poet, philosopher and swordsman, whose unusually long nose is a distinct social liability among those who are unwilling or unable to look past it. This new, full-length version is a more linear piece of storytelling, hearkens back to Coculuzzi and Deans’ original script, based on the translations of Gladys Thomas, Mary F. Guillemard and Howard Thayer Kingsbury.

Excellent work from the cast, including several multi-tasking supporting players. Coculuzzi does a remarkable job in the title role, bringing a lively yet grounded combination of wit, grace and spleen to a man who, despite his rough edges and brash behaviour, is possessing of a vulnerable heart and a romantic soul. Celeste Van Vroenhoven gives us a nicely layered Roxane, sweet and loyal, also a romantic at heart, and naive at first about love and human behaviour – but unlike both Cyrano and Christian, fearless in the face of love. Paul Cotton does a nice job as Roxane’s earnest admirer Christian, hot and youthful in love – shallow, but not ill-meaning. The triangle here is a lovely illustration of superficial and deep love, both of which can be communicated via poetry and sweet words.

Derek Perks is deliciously diabolical as the smirking and snake-like De Guiche, the noble vying for Roxane’s affections – and not above playing dirty to win her. And Stephen Flett is a delight as the ebullient Ragueneau, the chef with the heart of a poet. And big shouts to Roxanne Deans for stepping in at the top of the show to stand in as Le Bret, when actor Henrik Thessen got stuck in traffic on the way to the theatre.

The design team did a marvelous job, producing a beautifully minimalist set – both practical and aesthetically pleasing – as well as assembling striking costume and evocative music of the period: Arash Eshghpour (set), David Buffham (lighting), Farnoosh Talebpour (costume) and Dave Fitzpatrick (sound). With kudos to Naomi Priddle Hunter for choreographing the exciting and fun sword fights.

Amicus Productions’ Cyrano De Bergerac is a highly entertaining and moving adventure in wit, swordplay and love. This is some big fun for all ages – so get yourselves over to the Papermill Theatre to see this.

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Cyrano (Chris Coculuzzi) prompts Christian (Paul Cotton) as he woos Roxane (Celeste Van Vroenhoven)

Cyrano De Bergerac runs at the Papermill Theatre until November 22. You can get advance tickets online or by phone: 416-860-6176.

Riveting, jarringly honest & moving – EN(LIVE)N Productions’ Frozen

Last night, I saw the final preview performance of EN(LIVE)N Productions’ run of Bryony Lavery’s Frozen, directed by Andrew Freund, at The Box Toronto – and it was a gripping, poignant and thought-provoking trip.

The stage is set with seating for the audience along the length of the intimate space, on both sides, and throughout the centre. Actor Alexander Saridag, who we see later as the prison guard, suggests seating as people enter. Hanging from the lighting grid are various items, some of which are props and others denoting a specific place: children’s toys, family photographs, personal items from a purse or briefcase, glass wind chimes with mini bottles of booze attached, a micro audio recorder and tapes, videotapes carefully sealed in clear plastic bags, two rope nooses. There is an eerie, low-volume soundtrack playing in the background. A howling wind? Screeching children? Playing? Terrified? The other three actors pace the space. All creating a sense of anxious, curiosity-filled anticipation.

As Freund points out in his program notes, Frozen is a memory play. Through a series of monologues, during which the actors often speak directly to the audience, as well as two-hander scenes, we follow the lives and thoughts of three people. Agnetha (Lynn Zeelenberg) is an American academic, studying serial killers using both psychological and neurological examination; Nancy (Lavetta Griffin) is a British mother who’s dealing with the trauma of a missing 10-year-old daughter; and Ralph (Peter Nelson), also a Brit, a rough and snake-like charming loner with troubling sexual proclivities.
Each character is compelling in his/her own way – and performed with jarring honesty and great respect by a fine cast. Zeelenberg does an excellent job of juggling Agnetha’s conflicting emotions; an academic struggling with her own loss and sins even as she studies and lectures on one of the most reviled criminal types imaginable. And her scenes with Ralph are layered with a tense curiosity, a driven sense of exploration, and a touching, nurturing quality. Griffin does a lovely job as Nancy, going from put-upon housewife and mother, to living the emotional turmoil of the loss of her youngest daughter, to crusading activist. Like Agnetha, Nancy is also seeking answers – and, even more so, closure. Nelson is both mesmerizing and repulsive as Ralph, who has a certain bizarre logic to his perversity – a method to his madness. Ralph is unable to forge true human connections, and Nelson does a beautiful job of revealing Ralph’s humanity as he responds to the women’s attempts to connect, both intellectually and emotionally, with a combination of boyish confusion, longing and repulsion. Nice work from Saridag, doing multiple duty as our host/usher, set and props valet, and the silent but expressive Guard.

With shouts to the design team: Natalia Tcherniak (set), Claire McMillan (costumes), Eric Sullivan (lighting) and Dave Fitzpatrick (sound and photography).

Riveting, moving and gut-wrenchingly real – relieved with snatches of dark humour and the foibles of everyday life – Frozen holds no punches in its intense examination of memory, loss, sex crime and forgiveness.

EN(LIVE)N Productions’ Frozen opens tonight (April 5) and continues until April 20 at The Box Toronto. Tickets are $20 and available online. Go see this.

Production stills by David A. (aka Dave) Fitzpatrick:

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