Preview: A friend in need in Cue6’s powerful, intimate, intense Dry Land

Mattie Driscoll. Photo by Samantha Hurley.

 

Funny how it’s easier to share a secret with someone you barely know—and ask them to help you execute a critical decision. Dora award-winning Cue6—who brought us pool (no water)—presents an intimate and intense Toronto premiere of Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land. Directed by Jill Harper, this powerful and timely story of female friendship, abortion and perseverance previewed to a packed house at The Assembly Theatre last night and opens tonight.

Set primarily in the girls’ locker room of a Florida high school, we witness the evolution of the relationship between swim teammates Amy (Veronica Hortiguela) and new girl Ester (Mattie Driscoll). Both grappling with issues of sexuality, identity and the future, the tough-talking, sexually experienced, popular Amy and the introspective, naïve, socially awkward Ester are an unlikely pairing, to say the least. But Amy can’t bring herself to tell her mother or even her BFF Reba (Reanne Spitzer) about her unwanted pregnancy, so she turns to the new girl for help. Meanwhile, Ester is facing the pressures of being scouted by a university swim team—and dealing with her own desires and demons as she makes decisions about her future.

The stakes go up with each strategy Amy concocts, with Ester acting as a sounding board, personal assistant and devil’s advocate. Compelling, layered performances from both Driscoll and Hortiguela in this odd couple friendship. Driscoll rounds out the mousy Ester with hidden reserves of strength, determination and chutzpah; and Hortiguela deftly navigates the conflicted Amy, who masks her profound sense of vulnerability with cruelty and a “slut” image. Amy pushes Ester away when things get too real, too close—and only in the end does Amy realize how much she cherishes the relationship.

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Mattie Driscoll, Reanne Spitzer & Veronica Hortiguela.

Spitzer gives us a great comedic turn as Reba; a bubbly, irreverent and sharply observant gossip queen, Reba’s presence adds some much needed comic relief. The two male characters—university student Victor (played with likeable, awkward affability by Jonas Trottier), the son of a friend of Ester’s mother who hosts her during her university try-out, and the high school Janitor (Tim Walker, in a nicely understated, protectively watchful and largely silent role)—are secondary witnesses and assistants to the events that unfold. Amy and Ester are in the driver’s seat for their actions and the trajectory of their future—and the tight friendship that unfolds between them proves that old proverb “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

With women’s reproductive rights constantly being challenged south of the border; and the sex ed curriculum here in Ontario being knocked back into the previous century, Dry Land is a candid, timely look at some serious feminist issues—particularly those facing women in their teens.

Dry Land continues at The Assembly Theatre until September 22; get advance tickets online or at the door (cash or credit card).

In partnership with Planned Parenthood Toronto, Cue6 will be presenting two post-performance talkbacks on September 13 and 20 to discuss the play and how it relates to sexual health challenges faced by youth in our current climate.

 

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Preview: $h!t gets real in sharply funny, brutally honest We Three

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Sarah Naomi Campbell, Hallie Burt & Suzette McCanny in We Three – photos by Samantha Hurley

Last night, it was out to Tarragon Theatre for a preview performance of Cue6 Theatre’s latest offering: Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman’s We Three, directed by Jill Harper, with script contributions from Harper, and actors Suzette McCanny, Sarah Naomi Campbell and Hallie Burt.

Toronto roommates Skye (Burt), an alternative education PhD candidate, and Jamie (Campbell), a feminist blogger, are excited to be hosting an intimate dinner party for their university friend Blaire (McCanny), who got married and moved to Calgary two years ago, where she works as a very well-paid executive assistant. Their enthusiasm turns to bewilderment and disappointment when they find their friend has changed a lot – both physically and philosophically – and the anxiously anticipated reunion becomes a mine field as the conversation detours from catch-up to heated debate about feminism, rape culture and being a woman in the 21st century.

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Sarah Naomi Campbell & Suzette McCanny

The writing is smart, edgy, real and very funny – and the performances are strong and beautifully nuanced. Burt’s Skye is an adorkable academic; whip smart, with a fastidious and positive energy (if this were the Odd Couple, she’d be the Felix in the equation), she is intensely loyal to her friends – and her more centrist views put her in the middle of the heated debates, making her the ad hoc mediator/peacemaker. Beyond the chipper Mary Poppins exterior are secrets, as well as reserves of bravery and strength, that her friends can only guess at. Campbell and Burt have excellent chemistry as the long-time friends/roommates – so much so, that there is a married couple vibe between Jamie and Skye. Campbell gives an amazing, multilayered performance as Jamie; smart, cynical and fiercely outspoken (and the Oscar of the household), Jamie is painfully aware of her own inner struggles as she tries to reconcile her feminist beliefs with personal body image issues. McCanny mines the depths beneath the sharp, edgy and ambitious Blaire; deeply immersed in a corporate, conservative world, she perhaps hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid as much as sipped it. She too was anxious and excited to reconnect with old friends – and stunned when the evening doesn’t turn out to be the love-in they were hoping for.

These women have an intensely personal history and a very tight friendship bond. The conversation runs from the ridiculous to the sublime, as they discuss dildos, “Blurred Lines,” university memories and cosmetic surgery. The ferocious debates on feminism, rape culture and womanhood reflect their equally strong love for each other. And they’re fighting tooth and nail – and throwing a living room dance party – to regain a connection they’ve lost, perhaps permanently.

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Hallie Burt & Sarah Naomi Campbell

With shouts to the design team for the lovely and meticulously crafted space and intimate atmosphere for this production: Christine Groom (set/props), Simon Rossiter (lighting) and Tim Lindsay (sound). The empty chair at the dining table (placed at the downstage side of the table) feels like it’s for us, the audience, as we play the fly on the wall to this encounter.

Shit gets real with fierce love, friendship and feminism in sharply funny, brutally honest We Three.

We Three continues at the Tarragon Workspace (aka Studio) till April 17; get your advance tickets here. It’s an intimate space and a popular company, so advance booking strongly recommended.

Toronto Fringe: Complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, art & success in Pool (No Water)

pool_no_water_-web-250x250Cue 6 Productions has been getting some well-deserved buzz for its Toronto Fringe production of Mark Ravenhill’s Pool (No Water), directed by Jill Harper – running at the Tarragon Theatre mainspace.

A group of young bohemian artists is torn apart by illness and distance – physical and emotional – and previously unspoken, private feelings of envy, rage and betrayal come to the forefront in the words and actions of the group. Sarah has made it big on the west coast and reconnects with the group for the funeral of one of their fallen comrades. She offers an invitation to fly out for a visit and to lounge around her pool, which the gang accepts. A freak accident during their visit sets off a chain of events that challenges their concept of art and morality – with life-changing consequences for all.

An excellent ensemble in this intense and darkly funny tale of art, friendship and success. Each cast member adds a specific flavour to this group of artist friends: Chy Ryan Spain is splash and energy, with claws; Sarah Illitovitch-Goldman is cerebral, dark and sardonic; Daniel Roberts is an anxious and uncertain, but gleeful participant; and Allison Price (also featured in People Suck) brings edgy comedy and comic rage. And the fifth unseen character Sarah, who we only really know through second-hand accounts from the group, is entitled, successful and selectively generous. The group vacillates between love and hate for her – a hive mind thinking and acting as one, so much so that each can’t tell who was the instigator.

Featuring some beautiful, emotive and ethereal group movement choreography by Patricia Allison.

It’s a complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, and art and success in Cue 6 Productions’ remarkable Pool (No Water).

Pool (No Water) continues at the Tarragon mainspace until July 11; you have a few more chances to catch it – see the full schedule here. Book ahead for this one or take your chances on a sold out house.

Cue6 takes us to the edge of funny & disturbing – Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up

kate & samCue6 Theatre Company continues to push the edge of hilarious and disturbing with its current production, the Canadian premiere of Joel Kim Booster’s Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up, directed by Jill Harper and running at Fraser Studios.

The Kate (Karen Knox) and Sam (AJ Vaage) of the title are the teen movie stars of Ghost forest, a fantasy series that finds a young ghost hunter falling in love with his supernatural prey. Their on again/off again off-screen romance has just ended, to much tabloid coverage, and Kate’s life appears to be spinning out of control as she gets her own headlines as Hollywood’s bad girl de jour. Bill (Tim Walker) and Becky (Rebecca Liddiard) are a pair of overzealous fans who decide to execute a bizarre couple’s therapy intervention on the two young celebs – by kidnapping them and holding them hostage in Bill’s apartment. Relationship revelations emerge – and not just for Kate and Sam.

Adeptly shifting between the action in Bill’s living room and scenes from Ghost forest, this dark comedy takes a stab at the cult of celebrity, teen fantasy fiction and fandom – and this cast nails it big time. Knox’s Kate is sharp and edgy, her fuck-you attitude dissolving to show a genuine, savvy and severely confused young woman. Vaage is a sweetie as Sam, a sensitive romantic who’s trying to stay real, and who appears to be more like his film character than Kate. Walker brings a hilariously nerdy sense of hesitation and wonder to 30-something fanboy Bill, a mall cop on disability who lives vicariously through his movie heroes; and Liddiard’s Becky is a big ball of teen fangirl exuberance and quirky, sometimes cruel, edge – extremely passionate about and devoted to her favourite fantasy series and willing to go to great lengths to protect it.

Big shouts to set (Christine Groom) and props design (Jenny So) for the fanboy living room, complete with sci-fi/fantasy figurines – still in their original packaging – mounted on the walls; a rack of weapons on top of the shelf that houses the movie collection; and the signed Ghost forest movie poster, taking pride of place in the centre of it all. I also loved the intermission music – an evocative fantasy movie soundtrack (sound design by Tim Lindsay).
Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up is a darkly funny look at celebrity relationships, fandom and intervention. Running until June 21 at Fraser Studios, I’d suggest booking ahead, as seating is limited. In other words, go see this.

 

Love, desire & betrayal in Pieces

Cue 6 Productions’ Pieces, by Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman and directed by Jill Harper, opened this past week at Unit 102 Theatre and I had the pleasure of seeing the early evening performance last night.

“Jim and Susan are married” appears under the play’s title in the program and it is this relationship that is at the core of the play. A fifty-something couple, they’ve done a very neat job of living their separate lives together: Jim (James Downing) is a photography professor who travels a lot for work and Susan (Rosemary Dunsmore), also a professor and a self-described “single parent,” manages their home and raises their daughter. All very neat until Jodi (Allison Price) appears at their door. Jim has also been living another separate life.

Jenny So’s set (with Scott Penner as consultant) portrays these separate lives nicely. At first glance, it appears to be a bachelor apartment, with a dining area stage right and a bedroom stage left. But it soon becomes apparent that these are the two worlds of the play – even within the same household – the bedroom being both a part of Jim and Susan’s home, and Jodi’s in other scenes. The worlds of domestic and desire.

And that’s pretty much all I can tell you without including some major spoiler points. What I can tell you is that Pieces is a sexy dynamo of emotion, desire and betrayal – leaving the audience hoping against hope, taking sides and making moral judgments. Right along with the characters.

As an audience member, you won’t be able to sit on the fence about these characters – and that’s due in a large part to an outstanding cast. Rosemary Dunsmore is lovely as the supportive, strong and practical – and also passionate – Susan, the grown-up in her marriage to James Downing’s Jim, a charming and seductive artist/academic with desire to burn. And then there’s Allison Price’s Jodi – a sexy, smart student to Jim’s professor – in many ways a young Susan – captivated and so in love with Jim. Jim and Susan are married. And the revelations that emerge as a result of Jodi’s appearance are heartbreakingly earth-shattering – and put each to the test.

What makes the performance of Pieces particularly impressive is that the five middle scenes that take place in the present never appear in the same order. I had a great chat with producer Allie Lalonde (who’s also the thesp GM – more on thesp later in this post) and Christine Groom (thesp Director of Development) – both before and after the performance – about this unique aspect of the production. Before each show, there is a draw that decides the running order of those scenes – first, final and flashback scenes stay put. This means the actors and stage manager (Melissa  Cameron) must adjust each performance, constantly keeping them on their toes and in the present. And, last night, they did two shows. I know! For the audience, this means impressions will shift as well – and folks can come back and see the show again at a reduced price. For a more detailed description of this aspect of the production, take a look at NOW Magazine’s interview with playwright Illiatovitch-Goldman: http://www.nowtoronto.com/stage/story.cfm?content=186864

Cue 6 Productions is a member of thesp, an organization that provides assistance and resources to indie theatre companies, and info for audiences on theatrical happenings in Toronto. For more info, check here: http://thesp.ca/

Pieces runs until June 9 at Unit 102 Theatre – 376 Dufferin Street, Toronto (west side, just south of Queen St. West). For info and reservations, drop by the Cue 6 site: http://cue6.ca/