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.

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Passion, perception & revolution in New Ideas thoughtful Week 2 program

NIF 2016Alumnae Theatre continues its 2016 programming for its annual New Ideas Festival (NIF) of short new works with an engaging Week 2 program in the Studio space this week. Here’s what’s happening this week:

Housekeeping (by Jean Koppen, directed by Anne MacMillan). Three cleaners find something unexpected in a wealthy client’s home and their everyday routine is thrown into disarray as they debate the moral and ethical implications of their discover and what to do about it. At times darkly funny, the play highlights the stark realities of class, precarious work and distrust of a justice system that treats the rich differently from the rest of society. Really nice work from the cast: Morna Wales is tough, but fair and circumspect as Arlene, the veteran on the team; Aleksandra Maslennikova’s Jo is sharp, wary and cunningly resourceful; and Behiwot Degefu does a great job with the wide-eyed, irreverent and strong-willed rookie Sweetie.

pose ball (by Caitie Graham, directed by Emily Nixon – presented as the first part of a longer piece). When Cata (Chelsea Muirhead) wakes up with an infected wound on her thigh, foggy memories of a Friday night gradually surface – and she discovers that her boyfriend Jules (Ryota Kaneko) and bff Isa (Jenna Daley) have very different accounts of the evening. Sexy, suspenseful combination of psycho-thriller and avatar gaming, featuring some cool projection design (Adam Evenden). Outstanding work from this threesome. Daley’s Isa is a complex character of contradictions; a super responsible, introspective gamer/computer nerd, there’s an edge of obsession and self-destructiveness about her. As Cata, Muirhead is a spitfire; an energetic, rowdy and loveable brat who enjoys living on the edge for reals. And Kaneko brings the sly and edgy swagger with undertones of dangerous as drug dealer Jules.

War and Peace: A Family Story (by Krystyna Hunt, directed by Rebecca Grace). An unusual family intervention as Sam’s (Joshua Morris) daughter Alison (Veronica Baron), sister Rita (Pat Hawk) and wife Molly (Reva Nelson) conspire and execute a plan to improve his health and well-being. Dark comedy ensues with some hilarious work from the cast, with Morris as the tough as nails former military man; Baron as his peace-loving, but equally tough daughter; Hawk as his wry-witted, health-conscious sister; and Nelson as his artistic wife.

Yeats in Love (by Anne Tait, directed by Jane Carnwath). The tumultuous love affair between William Butler Yeats (Jonathan LeRose) and Maud Gonne (Nina Mason) unfolds as passion, poetry and rebellion meet amidst a nation in turmoil. The two are fierce in love as well as political debate, with some lovely moments from LeRose as the sensitive, circumspect and somewhat pragmatic poet Yeats and the Mason as the fiery, impulsive activist Gonne, who Yeats sees as a modern-day incarnation of mythological figure Kathleen Ni Houlihan. Features some beautiful sound design (Rick Jones) featuring Celtic music.

Passion, perception and revolution in engaging and thoughtful New Ideas Week 2 program.

The Week Two program continues to March 20, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 19 is the noon reading: Curved (by Kristin Shepherd, directed by Rebecca Ballarin).

And there’s one more week of programming to come: Week 3 (Mar 23-27).

For ticket info, visit the website. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the box office at 416-364-4170 (press 1) or in-person one hour before show time (cash only). Advance booking strongly recommended; this is a popular festival and the Studio is an intimate space.

Check out the Week Two trailer: