Outrageously fun, horrific good times in Space Opera Zero!

Clockwise, from top left: Eric Woolfe, Lisa Norton & Mairi Babb. Set & costume design by Melanie McNeill, assisted by Emily Butters. Lighting design by Michael Brunet. Photo by producer Adrianna Prosser.

 

Eldritch Theatre returns with more outrageously fun, horrific good times with Space Opera Zero, written by Eric Woolfe and directed by Dylan Trowbridge. Based on Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean tragedy The Changeling, Space Opera Zero! is a space horror erotic macabredy that combines poetic language, a B-movie/pulp fiction sensibility, feats of prestidigitation, 30s slang, mask and puppetry, operatic tragedy and a lesbian/alien love triangle. Space Opera Zero! opened on Friday at Red Sandcastle Theatre; I caught it last night, in an enthusiastic, sold out house.

Our story begins in 1930s America, where intrepid lesbian pilot Emily Trueheart (Lisa Norton) and mad scientist Hjalmar Pomeranki (Eric Woolfe) set off—in a space ship Pomeranki designed—on a mission where no man has gone before. Forced off course, they land on a strange faraway planet, where Emily rescues Princess Jenora (Mairi Babb) from certain death in the jaws of a vicious alien creature—and the two fall instantly in love.

Things are peachy keen until the Princess’s father, the Emperor (puppet, Woolfe), orders her to marry a fearsome tentacled alien (Norton) for the sake and safety of their planet. And while the Princess makes an unsavoury deal with the Emperor’s servant Doggo the Mutant (Woolfe) to get out of the marriage so she can be with Emily, Pomeranki is hatching an apocalyptic plan of his own back at the space ship. Caught in a web of lies and deceit, things go from bad to worse for the Princess; desperate to have things go her way, she enlists the aid of her maid/sex robot Ro-Berta (puppet, Woolfe) to distract Emily.

Will true love find a way in this faraway universe—and will there be any universe left to make sweet nookie in?

Big-time LOLs, twists and turns, and surprises from this engaging, energetic, uber-talented cast. Norton’s Emily Trueheart is the definition of moxie, combined with old-fashioned romantic; taking names and no guff (especially from men), Emily is a pioneer and explorer with the guts of a warrior and the heart of a poet. Woolfe does a stand-out job, juggling multiple hilarious and poignant characters, utilizing mask and puppetry. Notably the verbose mad scientist Hjalmar Pomeranki, who seems a nice enough fellow but has a dark purpose in mind; the reviled, put-upon servant Doggo the Mutant; and the loyal, sex-curious robot Ro-Berta. Babb gives the lovely Princess Jenora a slinky, femme fatale edge; driven to extreme measures to achieve her heart’s—and loins’—desire, the Princess risks painting herself into a corner.

With shouts to the outstanding interstellar design team: Melanie McNeill, assisted by Emily Butters (set and costumes), Michael Brunet (lighting) and Christopher Stanton (sound). And to stage manager Sandi Becker, for keeping it all running smoothly and showing us how to navigate our way through the set to access the washroom.

Space Opera Zero! continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre until December 2; advance tickets available online. It’s an intimate space with limited seating, and a super popular company getting great buzz, so advance booking strongly recommended.

Check out the cool trailer:

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Suffrage, prohibition, love & puppets in Driftwood’s charming, timely, re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It)

Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Driftwood Theatre Group puts a beloved Shakespearean heroine’s name back on the marquee with its charming, timely 2018 Bard’s Bus Tour production of the re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It), directed by AD D. Jeremy Smith. It’s 1918; and women’s suffrage, prohibition and WWI are at the forefront—and so is true love. I caught Rosalynde in Toronto at Ontario Place Trillium Park last night.

The Duke’s Distillery has been taken over by Frederick (Eric Woolfe), a hard-nosed gangster who has ousted his brother Senior to take over the business and run illegal booze across Lake Ontario to the U.S. Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden, finding rustic sanctuary with a small group of loyal followers. The banished Senior’s daughter Rosalynde (Sochi Fried) has been allowed to stay, as she’s the beloved friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia (Ximena Huizi)—but when he finds public opinion favouring his niece, he banishes her as well. Armed with a plan to flee to the forest disguised as brother and sister, the two young women sneak away with the company Fool Touchstone (Geoffrey Armour) in tow.

The neglected young Orlando (Ngabo Nabea) is facing similar struggles at home with his cruel older brother Oliver (Derek Kwan). When he goes to test his mettle at a local wrestling match, he and Rosalynde become mutually smitten; and he defeats Frederick’s man Charles (puppet, Megan Miles). When his faithful old servant Adam (Armour) learns that Oliver and Frederick are plotting against Orlando’s life, he urges his young master to flee—and the two leave their home for the safety of the forest.

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Ngabo Nabea, with Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried in the background. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Forest of Arden is where the magic happens. Disguised as the youth Ganymede, Rosalynde advises the love-struck Orlando, as well as the love-sick shepherd Silvius (puppet, Kwan), whose rebuffed attentions to Phebe (puppet, Miles) are thwarted further by Phebe’s new-found attraction to Ganymede. And one of Senior’s (Woolfe) friends, the world-weary, profoundly disheartened suffragette Jaques (Caroline Gillis), searches for meaning and a reason to carry on as she observes life in the forest, the unfolding love stories and a Fool out for a wife. Love, reunion, and new perspectives on life and the world unfold—and the forest inhabitants demonstrate compassion, equity and brave determination. And yet, we’re reminded that not all will partake in the new rights and opportunities that emerge during this time: men and women of colour do not yet have the right to vote; and men of colour are denied the opportunity to serve in the war.

Stellar work from the ensemble in a production that entertains as much as it illuminates. Weaving in snatches of news on the suffrage movement, prohibition and the First World War, we get the sense of a time and place immersed in great upheaval and social change. The rural natives of the forest are all puppets, as are some of Frederick’s henchmen (Eric Woolfe is also the AD of Eldritch Theatre, specializing in horror and fantasy storytelling using puppetry, mask and magic)—masterfully brought to life by various members of the cast, especially Megan Miles.

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Megan Miles as Charles the wrestler. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Fried is luminous as the mercurial, fiercely independent, giddy in love Rosalynde; coupled with Nabea’s brave, bold and adorably bashful Orlando, we see two abused young people forced to flee their homes and take charge of their lives—and coming to see the world, themselves and love with new eyes. The wisdom of women figures prominently in this production, from Huizi’s sharply witty, sassy, ever loyal Celia to Gillis’s poignant, well-travelled, experienced aviatrix Jaques. Jaques comes by her melancholy honestly, having seen—and feeling too much—of the world’s unfairness and cruelty. Here, the women school each other and the men in their lives: Jaques shares her experience with observant Celia; and the practical Rosalynde teaches the idealistic Orlando about the everyday nature of romantic relationships. Armour gives a hilarious, high-energy performance—bringing laughs and social commentary—as the quixotic scamp Touchstone.

Rosalynde (or, As You Like It) has one more performance at Ontario Place Trillium Park tonight (Aug 2) at 7:30 p.m.; thanks to the generous support of Ontario Place, admission is free—and Driftwood is happily accepting donations. Bring a chair, a blanket and bug spray (chair rental is available for $5—get there early). There’s a concession stand with drinks (including alcohol) and snacks; you can also score some sweet Driftwood merch over by the chair rental tent.

The Bard’s Bus Tour continues on its way, wrapping up its run on August 12. Check the Driftwood website for performance dates and locations; admission is free or PWYC, as indicated in the venue listing. Worried about weather? Check out the rain policy here.

For more on Rosalynde, check out director D. Jeremy Smith and actor Sochi Fried in an interview with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Here and Now.

 

 

Preview: LOL warfare with neighbours from Hell in the quirky, edgy Person of Interest

There are good neighbours and there are bad neighbours. This is a story about the latter: The neighbours from Hell. And what happens when a good neighbour gets pushed too far. Written and performed by Melody A. Johnson, with additional dialogue by Eric Woolfe and directed by Rick Roberts, Person of Interest previewed last night in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace.

Inspired by the true story of an event that happened on Johnson’s street in Little Poland, Person of Interest is a one-woman tale of a neighbourly dynamic gone wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

Wanting to help out at her son’s school on Pizza Day, Johnson must submit to a background check to determine eligibility/fitness for the task. Standard procedure. What’s not so standard is that her application is denied; she’s been flagged as a Person of Interest. And so we go back to the beginning, back to when she, an actor, met and married Allen, a composer, and how they bought a house in a cool little west end neighbourhood, on a street off of Roncesvalles, and moved in with their five-year-old son Dashiell and their rescue dachshund Luna.

They soon meet the Krakowskis, the next door neighbours with whom they share a three-foot wide alley. A primly neat, pressed, conservative couple with a pre-schooler and a dog of their own, no sooner have the introductions been made when the Krakowskis request that Johnson and family move their furnace vent, as they fear it’s a hazard. In true Canadian fashion, Johnson complies; it seems to be a simple enough request and their contractor is still onsite. She later realizes she should have listened to her mother and not given in.

That first request is just the beginning of a series of increasingly nit-picking, unreasonable expectations that go from passive aggressive to downright bullying, with infuriating impacts on outdoor décor and landscaping, not to mention the Krakowski’s Hummer blasting exhaust fumes into Johnson’s home. Cue the subsequent retaliation and the Law & Order gavel thunk! Desperate, crazy times call for desperate, crazy measures.

Johnson is an entertaining storyteller and a treat to watch. Endearingly Puck-like, full of energy, mischief and irreverence for the mundane, but genuinely wanting to get along, she weaves this sometimes shocking tale of neighbourhood warfare with candour and an edgy sense of fun. Deftly shifting in and out of her cast of characters, highlights include the uptight, controlling, mom from the Hummer driving couple from Hell next door; and her smoking, knitting, crime procedural loving mother, who’s always up for offering her own brand of sage and wry-witted advice. As herself, Johnson plays out with hilarious honesty scenes from her actor’s life, her growing neurosis as she navigates the looming jackassery next door alone while Allen is away on a gig, and serves up snapshots of universal observational humour.

Person of Interest opens in the Tarragon Workspace tonight and runs for one weekend only, with three more performances: tonight and March 3 at 8:00 pm, and March 4 at 2:30 pm. Get advance tickets online or by calling 416-531-1827. It’s an intimate venue and a super short run—and last night’s preview was close to sold out— so advance tickets are recommended.

Magic, puppets, shenanigans & horror in spellbinding, diabolically funny The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy

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Eric Woolfe & something wicked in The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy – photo by Adrianna Prosser

There are stranger things done in the midnight sun other than cremating Sam McGee. And there are more ways to moil for gold – some with even darker consequences.

Eldritch Theatre takes us on a strange, dark and magical adventure with their production of The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy. Created and performed by Eldritch Theatre co-founder Eric Woolfe, and directed by Dylan Trowbridge, the show opened at Red Sandcastle Theatre on Thursday night; I caught the spooky fun last night.

It is 1898 and our charming host for the evening is the affable scoundrel Brimstone McReedy, who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for that which he most desires. Armed with dark mystical objects proffered by Old Scratch himself – bell, book and candle – McReedy joins an infamous gang of grifters. Learning of the gold rush, the gang is bound for Dawson, where they plan to mine gold from the wallets and pockets of prospectors and other fortune-seekers there.

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Brimstone & Epiphany – photo by Adrianna Prosser

Things take a turn when McReedy falls for the boss’s girl, the lovely dark-haired Epiphany Blackburn, and he cheats his way into her heart. Armed with nothing but their wits and determination, they leave the gang and finish the harsh trek to Dawson, where Epiphany goes to work as a dancing girl at Belinda Mulrooney’s Fairview Hotel and McReedy gets to swindling. And it’s all jake for a while. Until jealousy rears its ugly green head and loyalties come into question, culminating in some nail-biting, life-changing matches of wits and card playing as the tale reaches its harrowing finale.

After all, magic always comes with a price and the house always wins – especially when the Devil is dealing.

Weaving the tale with magic, puppetry and a gruesome version of the shell game, Woolfe is a deft and entertaining storyteller. As McReedy, he’s a lovable scoundrel, giving us a lesson in the art of the swindle and incorporating some friendly audience participation before and during the show.

With big shouts to the design team for their work in creating this spooky, evocative period environment: Eric Woolfe (puppets), Melanie McNeill (production design), Kaitlin Hickey (lighting), Jude Haines (sound), Joanne Boland (vocals and piano music) and dark arts guide Magic Mike Segal. And to intrepid producer/box office girl Friday Adrianna Prosser and SM Sandi Becker for keeping it all together.

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Eric Woolfe as Brimstone, with puppet Brimstone – photo by Lyon Smith

Magic, puppets, shenanigans and horror in the spellbinding, diabolically funny The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy.

The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre until Nov 13; get your advance tickets online and have yourself a spooky Halloween good time.

You can keep up with Eldritch Theatre on Twitter and Facebook.

In the meantime, check out the trailer: