SummerWorks: Death, fear & loneliness in the spine-tingling, darkly funny, Hitchcockian A Girl Lives Alone

Photo by Molly Flood.

Theatre Mischief gives us a spine-tingling, darkly funny turn—and a unique look at death, loneliness, fear and how people live together—in its SummerWorks production of Jessica Moss’s Hitchcock-inspired murder mystery comedy A Girl Lives Alone. Directed by Moss and the company, the show is currently running in the Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre.

New to her NYC apartment, Marion (Samantha Madely) returns home one night to find her fellow tenants assembled outside, their building taped off as a crime scene. A young woman in the building was murdered, at home in her apartment, the unknown perpetrator still at large. A murder mystery, Hitchcock fan obsessed with her ex-boyfriend’s classic murder mystery-inspired radio show podcast, Marion becomes hell-bent on investigating her neighbours in hopes of discovering the murderer. Gradually, she gets to know her fellow tenants: the opinionated, judgemental and fastidious Alma (Anita La Selva); the harried landlord Murray (Alexander Thomas); boyfriend/girlfriend pair the volatile Stewart (Aldrin Bundoc) and chatty Kim (Asha Vijayasingham); the nervous, quirky Janet (Jessica Moss); and the creepy, enigmatic Foley Artist upstairs (Andrew Musselman). Watching from the sidelines is the bubbly actress Grace (Tiffany Deobald), the murder victim. Grace lived alone.

The murder is a catalyst for a variety of shifting dynamics within the building; heightening suspicions, and driving self-advocacy and the realization that the tenants don’t particularly know each other that well. Their previous perceptions of safety and comfort profoundly shaken, no one in the building is the same. We see the dark and tender sides of the neighbours as the story unfolds; and everyone has their own way of coping. Janet binge-watches Friends on Netflix while others enjoy Law & Order SVU, Alma calls Murray out on a long-neglected repair to her place and Marion becomes Nancy Drew. Both terrified and fascinated by the strange Foley Artist who lives directly above her, Marion can’t stay away as he shows her the tricks of his trade, at her request, up in his place.

Outstanding work from the ensemble, riding a fine edge of comedy and psychothriller in this gripping, darkly funny tale of mystery, and dangers real and imagined. Noises in the dark—the young couple sexing or fighting, the Foley Artist at work, someone coming upon you suddenly—all take on new meaning and put everyone on edge. And some new, unexpected alliances are forged as well. What do you need to feel safe and comfortable in your own home? And how do women who live alone mitigate the risk? And how do you cope when the unthinkable happens so close to home?

With shouts to the design team for their gripping, atmospheric work on this production: composer/sound designer Richard Feren, set/costume designer Claire Hill and lighting designer Imogen Wilson.

A Girl Lives Alone has one more performance at SummerWorks: tonight (Aug 19) at 8:30 p.m.; advance tickets available online.

 

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Toronto Fringe: Privacy and identity in the digital age in sharply funny, edgy Cam Baby

cambaby.groupfunny.beaudixonbrandoncoffeychristinehorneashleybottingandrewcameronkarlang - cam babyJessica Moss and Theatre Mischief get into the guilty pleasures and discomfiting side of social media consumption and interaction in Moss’s new play Cam Baby, running now on the Factory Theatre Mainspace for Toronto Fringe. Directed by Charlotte Gowdy, assisted by Taylor Trowbridge, Cam Baby is the 2016 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest winner.

Joseph (Andrew Cameron) and Matabang (Karl Ang) are bros and business partners, running an Airbnb business with a little something extra on the side called Cam Baby, where the guests become the show. Joseph’s conscience gets the better of him when his crush Natalie (Christine Horne) moves in after breaking up with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, guest Clara (Ashley Botting), in town for three months while taking a course, is navigating a burgeoning romance with Tim (Brandon Coffey). Things all go to hell when new guest Ezra (Beau Dixon) outs the Cam Baby operation. Schadenfreude, voyeurism, commodifying other people’s lives – for money or social currency – and issues of identity on and off screen all play prominently, as does the meaning of connection in an age when our devices become an extension of ourselves.

The sharp social commentary, which shifts between hilarious and discomfiting, is delivered with lightning speed by an outstanding cast. Ang is a manic, despicable sleazebag as Matabang; a slick fast talker with an amoral sensibility – as Tim mentions at one point, he is Red Bull personified. Cameron does a great job with Joseph’s inner conflict; the good guy to Matabang’s bad guy, his hands are just as dirty. He wants to come clean, but does he have the balls to walk the talk? Botting does an awesome job with Clara’s see-sawing between self-possession and low self-esteem; articulate and smart, she’s basically a good person, but even she crosses the line at times. Horne is delightfully quirky as the conflicted, self-absorbed Natalie; the “beautiful one” of the female guests, she is happy to consume and use the lives of others, but does little with her own life. Coffey is adorkable as the sweet, sensitive Tim; he is the most genuine of the bunch, but even he’s not entirely innocent, as he gleefully watches videos of people taking a bad tumble. And Dixon brings a lovely, child-like innocence as the lonely, socially awkward Ezra; he’s a troubled guy, but is he dangerous?

In the end, we’re all culpable; judging by appearances and gossiping about others online and in person to gain attention and social standing. And maybe if we stopped being such lookie loos and turned our gaze inward more often, we’d see that we’re all so much more than the sum of our likes and followers, and more than our body shape, job title or hotness rating. Maybe we might get a better idea of who we really are – and who our friends really are.

With shouts to set/costume designer Brandon Kleiman for the trippy, modular set – the apartment spaces delineated in part by a structure of boxes painted with a QR code design, which carries over into the chairs.

Who are we when others are watching? When nobody’s watching? Do we even know? Privacy and identity in the digital age in sharply funny, edgy Cam Baby.

Cam Baby continues at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until July 10; definitely book ahead for this one, folks. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Beyond the Toronto Fringe: TIFF meets Fringe & Next Stage line-up announced

morro & jasp
Morro & Jasp

TIFF meets Fringe. That’s right, folks attending Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year will have a chance to catch some cool Toronto Fringe Shed Plays this weekend (Sept 5-7), featuring:

Theatre Mischief’s Cinema Trope (Mark Shyzer & Jessica Moss)
Monkeyman Productions’ Ask Lovecraft (Leeman Kessler)
Morro & Jasp’s Equal Rights for Clowns
Kanika Ambrose’s Cookies, Ice Cream and Gumbo
Shakey-Shake and Friends’ Cave Stories (Tom McGee)
Faisal Butt’s Man in Shed

See full details of the Fringe Shed Plays at TIFF here.

The line-up for the Next Stage Theatre Festival (Jan 7-18) at Factory Theatre has been announced – see details here.

Wanna apply for Toronto Fringe 2015? Click here for info.

An epic journey of self-discovery presented in Theatr-O-Scope Vision – Polly Polly

Can I tell you how much I love Polly Polly? Of course, you can’t love the play without also adoring its creator/actor Jessica Moss – and I do. I came late to this party, not getting to the box office line fast enough during its Toronto Fringe run, but catching last night’s closing performance on the closing night of The Best of Toronto Fringe. Better late than never.

Written and performed by Moss, and directed by Naomi Skwarna, Polly Polly takes us on an epic, fast-paced one-woman journey of self-discovery. Polly Eschfield’s blissful daydream of a life, one in which she’s the star of her own movie, is thrown into chaos when a narrator’s voice enters her life. Narrating her life! Then, while at her horrible office job, the plot thickens during a phone conversation with mysterious stranger who knows an awful lot about her. Because the stranger is her!

Moss’s script and performance is a quicksilver marvel – but loses none of the thought, expression and emotion along the way. The opening monologue of famous movie lines alone reveals a range of expression and emotion that carries throughout the show, even as Moss plays multiple characters, including Polly’s narrator and the mystery woman. Extremely witty and poignant, Polly Polly is a vulnerable, gutsy and heart-felt turn of soul-searching. Polly feels like she’s going crazy as she deals with that voice and struggles to find herself. And while she may be unhinged, she’s never undone. Polly is an inspiration everywhere for those who daydream of love and a better life, for whom beloved music becomes a personal soundtrack, and for all who love escaping into the world of the movies.

A one-woman powerhouse in Polly Polly, as well as her earlier one-woman show Modern Love, Jessica Moss is definitely a performer/playwright to watch.

What did you see at The Best of Toronto Fringe this year?

Two great shows at Best of Toronto Fringe: Tales of Whoa! & Stop Kiss

Very happy to say that I’m managing to get out to see some shows at The Best of Toronto Fringe up at the Toronto Centre for the Arts this year, including two last night:

Not Bad Abe Productions’ Tales of Whoa!, written by the company and directed by Ken Hall, was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys as the audience went on a big, wacky, sketch comedy adventure into the titular board game.

Ensemble cast Leigh Cameron, Lara Johnson, Kyle Scott and Stuart Vaughan served up some side-splitting good times as a couple of pals get sucked into the game, encountering two crazy characters, then becoming part of the game/various characters themselves in the process. Think Jumanji meets Titanic meets sketch comedy meets gaming.

Personal highlights: a young man on a hot date has to divulge an unusual condition to his prospective partner; the shaky old lady on the subway who refuses a seat and creates havoc among fellow passengers; and an argument between drug store co-workers turns ugly and hilarity ensues when an aisle-clearing brawl breaks out, with interesting weaponry (especially loved the use of the Star Trek fight soundtrack in this scene).

Big laughs delivered with big heart. Tales of Whoa! finished its run at The Best of Toronto Fringe last night, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for these guys.

I also saw Gun Shy Theatre’s production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss, for a second time, last night – and I enjoyed it just as much. A very strong, moving, sweet (and funny) production of a great play. Been bugging Alumnae Theatre peeps to take a look at doing this one. If you missed my earlier bloggage on Stop Kiss, you can check it out here. With thanks to MC Thompson for inviting me along on her comps for these two amazing shows!

Will be back out tonight to see the closing night of Jessica Moss’s Polly Polly, which was so popular during its Toronto Fringe run, that I wasn’t able to get in to see it. Back soon with thoughts on this one-woman hit show.

Toronto Fringe – the final five

With limited time on my hands and five vouchers left of my 10-play pass, I needed to hop to it and see shows during the closing weekend of Toronto Fringe. Here are the last five shows I saw, in order of attendance:

Sour Grapes: I’d seen playwright/actor Allan Turner perform as Mullet the Clown before, but never as another character. Playing the trickster Coyote with a decidedly cranky, nihilist edge, Turner took us on a funny, cerebral and philosophical journey as Coyote experiences an existential crisis of sorts. Awesome work from the entire cast, which also included Chloe Payne (Clown), Darryl Pring (Doctor) and Dave McKay (Spider) – directed by Bruce Hunter.

Stealing Sam: Playwright/actor Steven Gallagher’s sharply funny and deeply moving one-man show about a man’s tribute to a dead ex-lover who died of AIDS. Directed by Darcy Evans, Gallagher had the audience laughing one moment and reaching for Kleenex the next as we followed him through the life and times of a gay man of a certain age, dealing with loss and modern-day dating. If you missed this show during its Fringe run, you can still catch Stealing Sam at The Best of Toronto Fringe.

This Play Is Like _____: Written and directed by Glenys Robinson, the company (Tiny House Productions) is made up entirely of members under 20 years old. Using shadow puppets to play out a legend and a live action present day story, the audience goes along on two young female hero’s journeys. Lovely work from the cast: Arden Dunlop, Kya Mosey, Ben Tersigni and Forest Van Winkle, and puppeteers Ana Ghookassian, Haruka Kanai, Patrick Kinhan and Yasaman Nouri, with vocals by Sarah Carmosino. Keep your eyes peeled for these talented, promising young talents. I’d fill in the blank with “Life.”

Fracture: Edmonton company the Good Women Dance Collective performed two pieces for this show: “Pod” (choreographed by Alida Nyquist-Schultz, and performed by Nyquist-Shultz and Ainsley Hillyard, with music by Piotr Grella-Mozejko) and “Shatterstate” (choreographed by Alison Kause, and performed by Kause, Kate Stashko and Alida Nyquist-Shultz, with music by Caleb Nelson). “Pod” was a sensual, otherworldly journey through creation and growth, with the two dancers responding very differently to the transition – creating both tension, intimacy and drama. “Shatterstate” explores perception and déjà vu – the dancers’, the audience’s – and how perspectives can diverge and intersect. Beautiful, cerebral, moving and sexy – Fracture moves on to the Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringe festivals. Definitely a company to watch out for.

Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare BASH’d unleashed the Bard upstairs at the Victory Café again this year, this time with the quip-exchanging, clueless wannabe lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Always a popular company, their shows consistently sell out – and I managed to squeeze in on the waiting list for their closing performance. Directed by Eric Double, and time-shifted nicely to post-WWII, this production boasts an amazing cast: Andrew Anthony, Andrew Gaboury, Ellen Hurley, Jamie Johnson, Elisabeth Lagerlöf, Milan Malisic, Brenhan McKibben, Jesse Nerenberg, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Kyle Purcell, David Ross, Amelia Sargisson and James Wallis. Miss them at Fringe? No worries, you can catch their fall production of Romeo and Juliet November 19-23 in the Junction at 3030 Dundas West (Toronto).

I wasn’t able to get in to see Jessica Moss’s one-woman show Polly Polly, but had great fun in the ticket line when Moss paid us a visit – with Timbits for us. Thanks, Jessica! Will do my best to catch Polly Polly at the Best of the Toronto Fringe.

Speaking of, you still have a chance to sample some of this year’s Toronto Fringe programming and perhaps see something you missed during the festival run – check out The Best of the Toronto Fringe, running July 17-31 at Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Ethereal intensity – Was Spring @ Tarragon Theatre

Daniel MacIvor’s Was Spring (which he also directed), playing now at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, is set outside of time and space – although both time and space are referenced in the script and in Verne Good’s sound design. The soundtrack of popular songs takes us back in time and forward again in the pre-show music, finishing with Some Enchanted Evening just as Kitty enters and the action of the play begins, and later brings the sounds of spring time. The breeze. The birds. The waves on the lake. Kimberly Purtell’s extremely minimalist set (she also did the lighting design) is a diamond-shaped playing space that has audience on two sides contains only three chairs, all top lit before the play begins, creating perfectly shaped shadows on the floor beneath. Kitty calls for light when she enters and the two mirrored walls behind her are revealed.

It was that timelessness and spacelessness – as well as the characters’ occasional breaking of the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience – that reminded me of another of MacIvor’s plays (and a personal favourite of mine) You Are Here. And while I don’t usually include spoiler alerts in my theatre posts, I feel compelled to do so now. So be warned: SPOILERS ahead.

Kitty (Clare Coulter) has been institutionalized because a neighbour in her building raised an alarm that she was a hoarder who used a bucket to pee in. She is visited by Kath (Caroline Gillis) and Kit (Jessica Moss). At first, the women appear to be three generations of the same family, sharing memories, people, places – and occasionally sniping at each other.

As the play progresses, though (it’s a one-act, 75 minutes long), clues dropped along the way – starting with each character’s introduction, her name being a variation of Kathleen – reveal these women not as relatives but as Kathleen in three times. Maid. Mother. Crone.  And a choice that Kit makes has devastating repercussions on her life. That part I’ll leave for you to discover.

The script is both cuttingly intense and extremely funny, haunting and charming – and the casting is perfect. Coulter as the elder Kathleen, brings us a Kitty who is cantankerous, wry and sharp-witted, and extremely annoyed with the world; Gillis’s Kath is world-weary and cynical in middle age, having lost her youthful dreams in settling for a kind of stability and comfort, while Moss’s Kit is wide-eyed and naive, her heart full of romantic fancies – and whose innocent view of the world ultimately leads to a moment that will change the direction of her life.

The audience was packed – on an Easter Sunday matinée – and the cast got a hugely deserved standing ovation.

Was Spring runs in the Tarragon Extra Space until May 6. Please visit the Tarragon website for details and reservations: http://www.tarragontheatre.com/season/1112/was-spring/