Toronto Fringe: A new mom’s fears come to life in the hilariously candid, deeply poignant Night Feed

Corinne Murray, with puppet fur bunny and puppet baby. Puppet construction by Shawna Reiter & Jonathan Davis. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Canvas Sky Theatre gets us up in the middle of the night with Sarah Joy Bennett’s hilariously candid, deeply poignant Night Feed; running in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. Directed by Bennett and associate director Ginette Mohr, with puppetry direction by Shawna Reiter and guest puppetry direction by Mike Petersen, everyday household objects come to life as a new mother’s self-doubt, fears and anxieties surface from her sleep-deprived mind as she breast feeds her newborn.

New Mother (Corinne Murray) is up in the middle of the night nursing her baby (puppet, operated by Murray), who struggles to latch on properly to get enough to eat and gain some weight. In her exhausted state of mind on the couch at 4 a.m., everyday objects around her living room start coming to life (courtesy of puppeteers Ginette Mohr and Sarah Joy Bennett) to taunt, tempt and tell her she’s just not up for this whole motherhood thing. She’s up every hour to feed the baby, she can’t remember when she last washed her hair, she can’t reach that glass of water on the side table without upsetting the baby—and she doesn’t know a lullaby!

Anything and everything can, and does, become a puppet here—in some cases by design or just regular objects, manipulated to move and speak. Concerns about neglected personal hygiene and appearance emerge as the Mother’s hair, breasts and even vagina speak to her. And the fur bunnies (puppets) accuse her of slacking off on the housekeeping, really sticking it to her with mentions of her mother and grandmother’s accomplishments in this regard—represented by two quilts hanging over the back of the couch, as thoughts of the mothers before her become both critical and comforting.

Scholarly books bemoan that she hasn’t gotten to them, while children’s classics preview the promise of shared readings to come. The Internet presents all manner of ridiculousness, especially on Pinterest. And surely the baby will be fine on its own while she goes for a bike ride—oh, but the sutures. Highlights include a book on breast feeding (Mohr) that cheerily chirps on about how easy and vitally important nursing your baby is, while passive aggressively damning the use of formula. And What to Expect (Mohr) gets into an all-out brawl with a bottle of Jack Daniels (Bennett) when it tries to tempt the mother to a drink. And the breast pump—best real object turned puppet ever! And did you know that, regardless of sex, we all have a vagina puppet (also, who knew she was French)? You’ll just have to go see for yourselves to see what I mean.

Lovely work from the cast as they run the gamut of new parent concerns. Murray is comically poignant as the Mother; struggling with self-doubt on a few hours of sleep a day, she’s able to brush off some fears and self-criticisms, while others land like a punch to the gut. And Mohr and Bennett are a diabolically hilarious tag team of postnatal torture as they give life to the objects around the Mother—showcasing some fine character voice chops in the process—and in some cases flanking her (in matching pj’s) to bring her inner voice to life as rookie maternal self-doubt and fears emerge.

In the end, the Mother knows she’ll falter, but she’ll do the best she can—be present, love, nurture—and the lullaby will come.

Night Feed continues in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace until July 14; check the show page for exact dates/times and advance tickets. This show has been selling out, including last night’s performance, so advance booking is a must.

Advertisements

Hilariously sexy good times – The Underpants

UnderpantsposterMen are silly. Then again, so are women. And we all become equally silly when we let our desires run away with us. And it’s especially fun when otherwise straight-laced, upstanding citizens toss their hang-ups aside as they get carried away.

The Underpants, Steve Martin’s adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s Die Hose – directed for Alumnae Theatre by Ginette Mohr, assisted by Caitlin English – reveals how the accidental shedding of a lady’s underpants in public throws a group of upright middle-class folks for a loop, with decidedly hilarious and sexy results.

It all starts out with sound designer and live piano accompanist Aaron Corbett entering, dressed in black pants and white shirt. He stops down centre and bows with a click of his barefoot heels, bringing the audience to attention. We are in 1910 Germany, in the home of Theo and Louise Maske.

The Maskes’ ordinary middle-class life is thrown into turmoil when, while watching a royal procession, Louise’s (Carolyn Hall) underpants fall down – a moment that gets noticed despite her quick and discreet retrieval. News of the event spreads, resulting in instant – and titillating – celebrity status for Louise. All much to the chagrin of her extremely conservative civil servant husband (Andrew Anthony). We also learn that Louise wants a baby, but Theo hasn’t touched her since their wedding night nearly a year ago. Boorish and uber-masculine, Theo is more of an arrogant, bigoted bully than the sweet-talking romantic Louise longs for.

Enter Versati (Scott Farley), a handsome young poet with a flair for the dramatic, who arrives at the house to inquire about a room for rent. Things get complicated when Louise accepts Versati’s application, only to learn that Theo has entered into an agreement with the hypochondriac barber Cohen (Michael Gordin Shore). Both prospective tenants are accepted – to share the room – and it turns out that both witnessed the “event” at the parade. And both are madly in love with Louise as a result.

Adding to the fun is the Maskes’ nosey upstairs neighbour Gertrude (Chantale Groulx), a woman of a certain age who longs to live vicariously through a young woman’s romantic life and who appoints herself Louise’s naughty fairy godmother in a plot to launch Louise into an affair with Versati. Then add to the mix a third tenant prospect, the elderly and stern Klinglehoff (Jacqueline Costa, doing triple duty – she’s also the set and lighting designer), and a surprise visit by the King (Farley) – and we have even more laugh-out-loud good times.

And, since this is a farce, plots and plans go awry – all in the most hysterical way, with loads of innuendo, physical comedy and a bit of potty humour. This fast-moving comedy does an excellent job of pointing and laughing at the foibles and hang-ups of the bourgeois majority – from their uptight and chauvinistic views on sex, tight-fisted ways with money and mistrust of minorities, to how easily people’s longings and desires can be played upon by the right person under the right circumstances. In the end, every character learns something about herself/himself, especially Louise, who grows into a self-possessed woman.

The Underpants features an excellent and highly entertaining cast. Hall is lovely as the adorable Louise, a loyal but neglected housewife with a progressive mind and searing urges, longing to be loved and romanced. Anthony does a nice job with man’s man Theo, who under all the machismo is a man who wants to live a proper, quiet life and provide for his wife so they can eventually afford a baby. Groulx is deliciously sly and lascivious as Gertrude, an older woman who is forced to acknowledge her own desires as she finds herself considering a younger man. Farley is part poet, part Casanova and part acrobat as Versati, a man who also longs for romance, and does a delightfully goofy turn as the King. Shore’s Cohen reveals a sweet, protective and lonely mensch beneath the hypochondriac; you just want to buy him a coffee and give him a hug. And Costa is a treat as Klinglehoff – the most uptight of the lot and quick to judge, but easily swayed – a young female actor masterfully carrying off the physical and mental postures of an extremely proper and severe old man. (Scroll down to the Alumnae blog post I reposted recently to see how Costa came to play Klinglehoff.)

With shouts to producer Jennifer McKinley, SM Karen Elizabeth McMichael, costume designer Sarah Joy Bennet and props mistress Bec Brownstone. And thanks to Alumnae Theatre for a lovely opening night reception, which included a lovely spread by member Sandy Schneider.

The Underpants runs on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage until October 5, with a talkback Q&A with the cast and creative team after the September 29 matinée.

So. What are you wearing? 😉

Life As A Pomegranate – interview with playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman

As promised, here’s my interview with Life As A Pomegranate playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman

I sent Dawna some questions via email – here’s what she had to say:

Q: You’ve gone with a more linear, chronological narrative this time around, with no flashbacks into Rozyee’s past. How did you come to find/decide on this revised structure?

A: Embarassment.

Basically the answer is I don’t want pity, so I opted out.

After the first staging, people would come to me after the show crying and telling me how sorry they are to see what a hard life I’ve had and they’ve had a hard life too. “It’s a PLAY!” Yes, there are some elements of my own truths in it and I’m glad you got something out of it but don’t make me a victim. A playwright has to either borrow someone else’s story or strip mine their own life if there is to be a story, right? But the audience thought it was all me.

So Ginette (the director) and I decided to take out the tragic flashbacks and keep the one from the bingo night because it is happy to put a stop to the pity party.

Turns out even with the flashbacks removed people still come up to me crying after the show. Guess the play touches them somewhere deep.

Q: We see the same characters in this version of the play, but each is given a different weight. We’re seeing more of Arthur and less of Rozyee’s mom – and the witch in the mirror seems more predominant. And Arthur has gone from being a mildly supportive to actively discouraging Rozyee’s dream. Can you tell us a bit about the character shifts, and how this affects their roles and impacts on Rozyee?

A: When I’m on stage I have a set of boxes in my head. There’s a box for the lines, one for blocking, timing and emotion. When I am the playwright there’s also and a box that is observing the room.

My observer told me Rozyee has to struggle more to reach the audience on a deeper vein. It’s important to me that my audience feels the story either in the heart, the hips or the head…ultimately I’ll write a play that touches them in every spot.

After the preview I threw out the idea that my story was incomprehensible. I knew by the reactions of the audiences that the story had touched on some universal truths and they could understand it. (There’s nothing worse to me than going to theatre that is so cerebral that the audience doesn’t know what’s happening.)

I worked on developing the inner critic and Arthur and Sutton. In the preview you saw they were more cartoony. In the last version the witch is more depressing, Sutton more menacing and Arthur an ass.

It’s interesting that you say we see less of Rozyee’s mom; Ma was more a part of the show this time round. I wrote the play so that Rozyee and Ma never make contact, they’re always on the phone. I wanted to turn up the ache of loving a parent but never being close to them.

Haha….this answer is so long. Short answer: Rozyee is more of a hero if she struggles more so I wrote in more struggles.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the mean girl birthday party prank anecdote. This time, it’s Sutton’s story and I seem to recall that being Rozyee’s story in the earlier version of the play. Is that right? If so, what made you decide to make it Sutton’s story?

A: You are right. (Thank you for noticing.) I love playing Sutton. I am not a writer. I write to act. I ache to act. The acting community here won’t let me in so I write characters I want to play. To take Sutton deeper (for the actor me), and to make Rozyee less of a victim (for the playwright), I got Sutton to show a bit more humanity. I gave Sutton the story.

Q: The stakes are much higher for Rozyee this time around. She was already a heroine in the earlier version of the play – but this time, she has bigger obstacles and decisions to make. How did this shift in her journey come about?

A: After the preview Nika Rylski said: “Good, now make Rozyee struggle if you want this story to last.”

So I gave Rozyee more struggle and she also grew the courage to divorce Arthur.

Q: You performed the play in New York and will be returning there. Did you perform this version of the script there? What was it like performing for those audiences, in that city?

A: Yes, I perform the same script there.

When I act, I give all of me, every cell. No tricks. No shortcuts. No methods I show up and say the lines, I open my flap and show that through the words of the playwright and the channel of the character.

I fly, I fly, fly.

In NYC, I opened myself up even more. I thought: “If I am only here on Broadway once in my life I want to say that I gave every fiber of me so that it will have been a personal success.”

I had no idea I’d be asked back.

When I get to act I am so happy I truly believe the experience is a dream I conjured. Thoughts become things, right? I am free on a stage. Now. Now. Now. No inner critic.

It was so surreal to act in NYC. I lifted my arms and fell off the cliff willingly, freely. I do this: Here. Here’s my heart. Look. Take it. It’s yours.

I thought the producers would erase the Canadian bits of the show. They loved those bits. I only changed the place where Rozyee gets her treats from Loblaws to Price Chopper so they would understand it is a grocery store.

Q: Will you be making any further revisions to the script? Any other plans for a run or tour?

A: No more revisions. There were 16 drafts to get it where it is. Tempting, but no, that egg is cooked.

Life as a Pomegranate will be in the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival, Times Square, February 2013.

We’ve applied to six fringe lotteries across Canada for summer 2013: PEI, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal (didn’t get in), Vancouver, Victoria UNO Festival.

If you know of anyone who wants to see it, let me know…why wouldn’t I want to fly again?

Q: You’re working on a new play right now – Yellow Bird. Will that also be a one-woman show? What can you tell us about it?

A: Yellow Bird is the story of what happened to Ma from Life as a Pomegranate. If there is grant money I can write in three men to play Ron, but if not it will be a two-hander.

Plot: Ron forges his mother’s signature and goes to fight in WW2. He is 14.

Returning from the front injured, he meets Pat and they fall in love, but the two of them are in that war together until they die at a young age, within 10 months of each other.

PTSD, shame, no moral ground…this is their love story.

I will play Ron’s mother, then his wife then his daughter.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

Thanks for seeing my work.

 

Thanks, Dawna! With special thanks for being my first blog interview. 🙂

Life As A Pomegranate redux – same adorable misfit heroine, much bigger stakes

My pal Ty and I were among the handful of lucky folks on the waiting list who got in to see Dawna J. Wightman’s one night only performance of her one-woman show Life As A Pomegranate at the Flying Beaver Pubaret last night. A redux version of its spring premiere at Lazy Daisy’s Café – written and performed by Wightman, and directed/dramaturged by Ginette Mohr – the show has since travelled to NYC and will be returning there soon.

Wightman and I had been chatting via blog comments and that’s how I learned about this recent performance; she also told me that the play was quite different from the version I saw back in the spring – and she wasn’t kidding. We still have our misfit heroine Rozyee (Rosy) Fudge, who dreams of being a professional actor as she struggles with family obligations after being transplanted to small-town B.C., trying to “keep under the radar” to avoid rocking the boat that is her husband Arthur’s conservative outlook and job, and doing her best to support her troubled, chain-smoking mother back in Montreal.

The structure of the storytelling is more linear and chronological this time, and the characters – all played by Wightman – are each given a different weight. We still have Rozyee’s stoner neighbour Mo and Arthur’s snobby, sophisticated employee Sutton, along with Arthur and mom – with altered levels of impact. Arthur is less supportive of Rozyee’s dream, going as far as actively discouraging it in this revised version of the play. And the wicked witch in the mirror – her own internal voice of negativity – seems to be even more predominant. The stakes are much higher for Rozyee this time: her obstacles are more challenging and, in the end, she is faced with some serious life-changing decisions.

Rozyee’s indomitable spirit is still very much in evidence and the tone of the storytelling is by turns playful and heart-wrenching – and always magical. Our heroine is a sweet, child-like soul, wishing she could have a flap in her upper chest that she could open and show us all her jumbled up insides and feelings, and that we’d then feel okay to do the same – and we see a flash of this with Sutton. Rozyee still has that turquoise ball of creativity inside her, generating light that shoots out her fingertips. She still believes in herself and in magic and in her dreams.

It’s a pleasure to watch Wightman perform. She is a marvelous actor/storyteller, transitioning from character to character with ease. And a real pro when there were temporary technical difficulties with her body mic, which forced her to pause the show momentarily as sound tech Liz came up to fix the problem. She backed up the scene a bit and started over – all as if it had never happened.

I’d like to do an interview with Wightman and ask her about the changes – and the process. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Life As A Pomegranate and pay Rozyee a visit sometime. It’s a delightful, inspirational, joyful journey. And check out the Flying Beaver sometime – great food and a cozy, relaxed atmosphere. With thanks to Heather for getting us on the waiting list.