The inescapable ghosts of the past meet tricks of the memory in the haunting, complex The Late Henry Moss

Anthony Ulc in The Late Henry Moss. Set design by Adam Belanger. Costumes by Janelle Joy Hince. Lighting by Steve Vargo. Photo by Curt Sachs.

 

Unit 102 Actors Co. takes us to an adobe shack in the middle of nowhere New Mexico in their intimate production of Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss, directed by Scott Walker and running at their new home at The Assembly Theatre.

When Ray (David Lafontaine) arrives at Henry’s place after getting a phone call from his estranged older brother Earl (Mark Paci), their father (Anthony Ulc) is already dead, his corpse covered with a blanket on a cot. And when Ray presses Earl to repeat the details of the circumstances of Henry’s death, he gets the sneaking suspicion that something’s not right.

Earl got a call from Henry’s neighbour Esteban (Matthew Gouveia), who was worried about Henry’s welfare. We learn that Henry had a girlfriend named Conchalla (Jennifer McEwan), and a young Texan taxi driver (Michael Eisner) fills in the blanks about driving Henry on a strange fishing trip shortly before he died. Shifting back and forth between past and present as we see the story play out, we witness a tangled web of lies, secrets and selected memory unravel.

This is classic Shepard, featuring all the dark comedy, family dysfunction, alcoholism, secrets and haunting, conflicting memories—the stark realism tinted with moments of magic and poetry. The underlying sense of cruelty and violence starts at a slow boil, the heat getting turned up throughout with explosive results as inner demons are revealed and unleashed. In the end, the truth is both troubling, poignant and complicated.

Excellent work from the cast on this intense, intimate journey. Paci gives a compelling combination of a lost life lived in a state of exhausted estrangement and a longing to reconnect; there are things, moments, that Earl can’t bear to look at—but he finds himself unable to turn away from his dying father. Lafontaine’s tightly wound, mercurial Ray is the perfect foil for the more taciturn Earl. Menacing in his suspicion, and with a tendency towards cruelty and violence, Ray recalls bits of family history that his older brother has blocked—but memory is a trickster even for him.

Like Earl, Ulc’s Henry is a picture of haunted, hungover isolation; trying to forget, erasing his past with a bottle and a woman, Henry fears death as much as he courts it. McEwan is sensuous, mysterious and shaman-like as Henry’s girlfriend Conchalla; adding an otherworldly taste of magic, ancient tradition and heated romance—including some sexy choreography, with the dance illustrating their relationship—it’s like she’s acting as Henry’s guide to the next world.

Eisner’s taxi driver and Gouveia’s Esteban add some great—and much needed—comic relief. Eisner is adorably friendly and entertainingly cocky as Taxi; and, as Esteban, Gouveia is the sweet, guileless Good Samaritan with a lusty streak.

The inescapable ghosts of the past meet tricks of the memory in the haunting, complex The Late Henry Moss.

With shouts to the design team Adam Belanger (set), Janelle Joy Hince (costumes) and Steve Vargo (lighting) for transforming the venue into this blue and orange world outside of the rest of the world.

The Late Henry Moss continues at The Assembly Theatre until January 20; get advance tickets online.

 

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Love in all its complex, messy, glorious forms in Love Between the Lines

Chelsea Riesz, Lisa Alves, Courtney Lamanna, Joella Crichton, Mercy Cherian & Cathy Huang—rehearsal photo courtesy of Jenna Borsato

 

HERstory Counts opened its second season at Red Sandcastle Theatre last night with Love Between the Lines, written and performed by the ensemble, and directed by Co-Artistic Producer/Co-Artistic Director Jennifer Neales, assisted by Ellie Posadas, with dramaturgy by Co-Artistic Producer/Co-Artistic Director Evangelia Kambites.

For those of you not familiar with HERstory Counts, it’s a company that produces true stories, performed by the creators themselves, offering a space to challenge and push past the ideals of the status quo. We feature and celebrate female-identified womyn of all backgrounds, all ages, all races, all histories, all sizes, all sexual orientations, and all abilities.”

Featuring autobiographical storytelling from six writer/performers, Love Between the Lines is an examination of love in its various forms and incarnations, each story weaving seamlessly in and out of the other. Joella Crichton’s exploration of the stages of grief following a break-up; Chelsea Riesz discovering sins of the father in her relationship dynamics; Cathy Huang’s love letter to a kindred spirit grandmother; Lisa Alves navigating identity and the complicated, close-knit ties with her mother; Courtney Lamanna connecting the dots as she recognizes and strives to break the cycle of abusive relationships; and Mindy Kaling doppelganger Mercy Cherian’s undying love for a dying, ever protective father.

Told with vulnerability, humour and courage, the storytelling is up close and personal—candidly revealing all the maddening, heartbreaking, messy struggle, comfort and elation of these relationships. Incorporating memory, personal insight and even confession, each actor plays out her truth on a bare stage; her story animated by the other actors, who deftly transform into parents, lovers, inner selves, a tarot card reader and even—most hilariously—goofy, fiercely protective street dogs in India. These stories move you to laughter, tears and even maybe your own a-ha moment. These stories resonate.

With shouts to Stage Manager Mariah Ventura, Creative/Production Assistant Robin Luckwaldt and Production Manager Jenna Borsato for their work on this production.

Love in all its complex, messy, glorious forms in Love Between the Lines.

Love Between the Lines continues at Red Sandcastle, with performances tonight, Saturday and Sunday night at 7:30pm, and a 2:30pm matinee on Sunday. Get your advance tickets online or purchase at the door half an hour before show time. Advance booking recommended; it’s an intimate space and last night’s opening was a packed house.

Keep up with HERstory Counts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Toronto Fringe: Peeling back the layers in the funny, frank, insightful feminist excavation Operation SUNshine

Jennifer McKinley takes us on an unusual reclamation project in her father’s basement bathroom in her one-woman show Operation SUNshine, directed by Clara McBride and running at St. Vladimir Theatre for Toronto Fringe.

Tasked with preparing her father’s home for sale, McKinley tackles the most complex—and unusual—part of the cleaning and purging process: the basement bathroom that was at one time part of her father’s friend Bill’s living space. Walls and ceiling have been wallpapered with Toronto Sun Sunshine Girl clippings. And as she carefully excises these women from their bathroom prison, she discovers more than just a collection of pin-up girls.

Seeing these images as a piece of childhood/family history—not to mention that they present real women living real lives away from their photo shoots—instead of simply scraping the photos off, McKinley chooses to carefully cut and peel. Rescuing these photos and the lives that go with them, she preserves as many of the images as she can and reads the news stories of the day on the other side of each photo page. What she finds are many stories of tragedy and loss—missing and murdered women and children, and the men who put them there—that still resonate 25 years later in that they are still all too common.

The physical activity of removing the photos becomes introspective, inspiring memories of family history, as well as curiosity about the lives of these women. Using specific physical and vocal attributes, McKinley creates a series of compelling, often funny, sharply defined characters, including her father and her younger selves—and a selection of her (and Bill’s) favourite Sunshine Girls. These are women who enjoy their bodies and their sexuality, in some cases promoting themselves and/or earning a living. The rescue mission turns into a feminist excavation—of these models, the accompanying male gaze and, most importantly, of personal self-discovery. She uncovers a hidden part of herself, one that involved choices intended to make herself invisible and safe.

Peeling back the layers in the funny, frank, insightful feminist excavation Operation SUNshine.

Operation SUNshine continues at St. Vladimir Theatre until July 15; advance tickets available online.

Family, transition & mental illness in the honest, engaging, moving Little Pretty and The Exceptional

Sugith Varughese & Farah Merani in Little Pretty and The Exceptional—photo by Joseph Michael

 

A South Asian Canadian family navigates a career transition, personal milestones and mental illness in Anusree Roy’s Little Pretty and The Exceptional, directed by Brendan Healy, assisted by Ryan G. Hinds—running in the Factory Theatre Mainspace.

Little Pretty and The Exceptional takes us to Toronto’s Little India, to a store on Gerrard St. East where Singh family patriarch Dilpreet (Sugith Varughese) is preparing for the Canada Day grand opening of his family-run sari shop with the help of his daughters Simran (Farah Merani) and Jasmeet (Shruti Kothari). To his chagrin, Jasmeet has also enlisted the help of her boyfriend Iyar (Shelly Antony).

The entire Singh household is running on the stress and excitement of major life events: Dilpreet is navigating a career transition, going from shop employee to shop owner; Simran, who wants to be a human rights lawyer, also works at the library and is awaiting her LSAT results; and Jasmeet is preparing for prom and gunning for the coveted Prom Queen crown.

When Simran’s LSAT score is lower than she needs to get into Osgoode, she begins a downward spiral into extreme tension and anxiety. As she struggles to sign up for LSAT prep classes and reschedule the test, her ongoing nightmares and headaches are getting worse, and she’s beginning to hallucinate. And when she goes missing one night, returning with a story of seeing her dead mother, her father wants to take her to the doctor, but her sister thinks she just needs time and space to relax.

Haunted by their shared history of a wife and mother who struggled with mental illness, and with the grand opening just days away, the Singhs are torn about what to do for Simran—but as her visual and auditory hallucinations worsen, even Jasmeet realizes they must seek medical intervention. In the end, as much as the Singhs strive for normalcy as they open the shop, things will never be the same again.

Lovely work from the cast in this poignant, sometimes funny, family story. Varughese gives a moving and powerful performance as Dilpreet; a loveable, outspoken and somewhat stubborn man with a wry wit, Dilpreet is a middle-aged father bravely shifting from employee to entrepreneur. An immigrant who came to Canada to make a better life for his family, the cultural and generational divides with his daughters make for some fun comedic moments of communication and butting heads. Merani is heartbreaking as Simran; the ‘smart one’ of the Singh sisters, Simran’s decent into Schizophrenia is devastating to watch—from her perspective as a strong academic student aiming for law school, and the varied responses from her family.

Shruti Kothari and Shelly Antony in Little Pretty and The Exceptional - Joseph Michael Photography (1)
Shruti Kothari & Shelly Antony in Little Pretty and The Exceptional—photo by Joseph Michael

Kothari is a firework as Jasmeet, the ‘pretty one;’ a young woman of boundless energy and a touch of vanity, Jasmeet’s a high school senior who wants to be a fashion designer. Outspoken like her father, she’s a take-charge gal—but when it comes to her big sis, she goes into denial over the increasingly erratic behaviour. Haunted by vague memories of their “crazy” mother, Jasmeet doesn’t want to consider that Simran may need psychiatric help. Antony is a delight as Iyar; high-energy, laid back and supportive, Iyar has no trouble gently calling Jasmeet on her attitude towards Simran’s situation. And though he’s not technically a member of the Singh family, he does great service assisting with the store opening and overall emotional support.

With shouts to the design team for their work in creating the lush, evocative space—filled with rich, gorgeous fabrics, and music and lighting that goes from bright and lively to malevolent: Samantha Brown (set, props), Chantelle Laliberte (costumes), André du Toit (lighting) and Richard Feren (composer and sound).

Family, transition and mental illness in the honest, engaging, moving Little Pretty and The Exceptional.

Little Pretty and The Exceptional continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace till April 30. Advance tix available online or by calling 416-504-9971.

Check out Anusree Roy’s beautiful, honest and personal piece on mental health in Intermission Magazine.

Compelling, poetic, unflinchingly honest snapshots of working class people in Of Being Underground & Moving Backwards

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Heather Babcock at the launch for Of Being Underground & Moving Backwards – photo by Lizzie Violet

Where do the words
Interrupted
Of the working class people go?
Lost somewhere within their time
Interrupted.

This is the prologue to Heather Babcock’s chapbook Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards, a collection of short stories published by DevilHousePress.

A compelling and vividly detailed collection of works, Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards opens with “Break,” a first-person narrative from the point of view of a heart-broken, over-worked waitress soldiering on through her shift to pay the bills – and finding emotional release in an unexpected moment of solitude during a much deserved break.

The workaday characters – Wilbur and Christina in “Half Off” and Betty in “The Trees Turned to Glass” – struggle through harsh and unfair circumstances, doing the best they can to survive as they scramble to eke out a living, and find snatches of happiness and moments of ecstasy when they can. Constantly faced with judgement in the present and haunted by ghosts of the past, daydreams and fantasies become a welcome escape – an oasis from the dull, grey hopelessness of a world that sees them as disposable. And in “Rebecca,” we get a portrait of one of those judgemental, comfortably smug points of view, as wealthy record producer Conrad washes his hands of responsibility for someone he supposedly loved once.

There is beauty and poetry, grit and defiance, especially in the stories of family and loss. Jake in “The Dancing Bear,” escaping from his brother’s hospital bedside and into a local bar and a pretty woman. First-person memories of a mother, a dead sister and flowers in “Marking Words” and the title story “Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards;” the sharp edges of family history smoothed by nostalgic recollections made bittersweet by family tragedy.

And the closing story “Wind Pudding and Wagon Tracks” is parable-like in its insight into the human spirit; set in a place where everyone is treated equally and all are given the same choice – only each comes from different places with which to make that choice.

Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards is a beautiful collection of unflinchingly honest snapshots of otherwise invisible working class people; their everyday drudgery finding momentary respite in after-hours second lives, rich fantasy worlds, moments of recollection and in the imperfect love of equally lost souls.

You can find more of Babcock’s work online on her website. Babcock performs regularly around the city reading her work; coming up, she’ll be performing with Neil Traynor at I Got You Babe! And Evening of Poetry and Music with Heather and Neil at Hirut Restaurant on March 19 at 8 p.m.

Toronto Fringe: A delightful & moving journey across time & space, love & family in Rukmini’s Gold

rukminis_goldWent to see the Rukmini’s Gold, by Radha S. Menon – the winner of the 2015 Toronto Fringe new play contest – directed by Wes Berger and running at the Factory Theatre Mainspace.

An old woman (Rukmini, played by Dia Frid) in a white sari waits alone on a bench at a train station. Clutching a jewelry case and carrying a single suitcase, she reminisces about her life and family. A 12-year-old girl (Maya Huliyappa-Menon) joins her, and she is carried off on a journey of faces, memories and visions of the future. The hardships, happiness and lives of Rukmini’s family play out over the course of many years, across several countries – all bound by the precious family necklaces and bangles she leaves them to remember her by.

Really nice work from this ensemble, most of whom (except for Frid) play multiple characters: Frid, Huliyappa-Menon, Tony Sciara, Vivek Hariharan, Rishma Malik-Scott, Ellora Patnaik and Brittany Miranda, supported by understudy Sindhuri Nandhakumar. The scenes between Rukmini and the girl are particularly compelling and bookend the play nicely. Frid’s Rukmini plays up her age – her “condition” – but she is sharp as a tack and decidedly feisty. Huliyappa-Menon’s girl is precocious, energetic and bright, full of playful mischief. Who she is, I’ll leave for you to decide for yourselves – so you’ll have to go see this.

With shouts to the beautiful, evocative – and haunting – work of costume/props designer Kelly Wolf and sound designer Nicholas Walsh.

Rukmini’s Gold is a delightful, moving journey across time and space, love and family.

Rukmini’s Gold has one more performance at the Factory Theatre Mainspace: Sun, July 12 at 7:00 p.m.

Toronto Fringe: Powerful & thoughtful exploration of family & mental illness in Hanger

hanger-web-250x250Saw yet another marvelous two-hander at Toronto Fringe last night: Kildare Company’s Hanger, written by Hilary McCormack and directed by Joshua Stodart (both also on the Ale House Theatre Co. Twelfe Night, or what you will team) – running at St. Vladimir Theatre.

Acceptance and denial of mental health issues come to the forefront as sisters Liz (McCormack) and Kat (Tennille Read) find their relationship at stake over attitudes about mental illness and perceptions of events from their family history. The writing is structured in such a way that you can’t tell if what you’re seeing is a flashback scene or a hallucination – which has the disturbing effect of putting you inside the point of view of an individual in crisis.

Lovely, poignant performances from McCormack and Read; truthful, committed and on the edge as these sisters grapple with inner and outer conflicts – torn between the love and bond of sisters, and being unable to connect or be on the same page of their family history. McCormack’s Liz is the shit-disturber of the family, calling out their concealed troubles; stubborn and determined, she faces the issues but at a very high cost to herself. Can she find a way out? As Kat, Read is the peacemaker and protector; in denial, and vacillating between drive and anxiety in a see-saw of emotion. Can she find it inside her to admit what’s really going on?

Hanger is a powerful and thoughtful exploration of family relationships in the face of mental illness, featuring moving performances from McCormack and Read.

Hanger has one more performance at St. Vladimir: today (Sat, July 11) at 5:15 p.m. Get out to see this – it’s an important topic.