Community, conflict & discovery in New Ideas funny & poignant Week 3 program

NIF 2016It’s the final week of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (NIF),  and the Week 3 program features an extra bonus show: a lobby play. So get to the theatre early (around 7:30 p.m. to get a good spot in the lobby near the staircase to the mainstage) for this extra NIF treat.

The Nurse (lobby playby Francine Dick, directed by Mandy Roveda and featuring actor Margaret Rose Keery). A delightful short solo piece, and very meta as actor Keery plays an actor reluctantly preparing for a callback for Romeo and Juliet. She starts out being certain she’s not right for the part, but as she enlists assistance from the audience to read with her while she prepares – against her will – she learns something about the part and possibly about herself. Strong, engaging work from Keery.

Provenance (by Linda McCready, directed by Pam Redfern). Disillusioned chef Alicia (Fleur Jacobs) has high hopes when she makes a trip to Webster’s Falls with art professor Martin (Eric Edquist), who she hopes will authenticate a painting she plans to sell in order to fund her own Italian restaurant. Jacobs brings a lovely sense of sass and adventurousness as Alicia; and Edquist’s is adorkable as the awkward, precise and decidedly not outdoorsy professor. A sweet two-hander with some interesting and surprising discoveries.

Trying (by Norma Crawford, directed by Juliet Paperny). The double meaning of the title of this very funny and touching play becomes evident very quickly as three at-risk young adults wait for their yoga teacher (part of a mandated social services program). Great work all around from the cast: Michelle T. Baynton as the energetic, medicated handful Tracey; Adam Malcolm as the new guy Brent, conflicted and itching to get to the casino; Evan Walsh as the sweet, introverted misfit Jimmy; Susannah Mackay as the troubled, mysterious surprise guest Lily; and Annie McKay as their put-upon, prim teacher Beth. All are struggling to find their way – even the teacher.

Sick Kids Wanna Talk to You (by Carolyn Bennett, directed by Jennifer McKinley). A Sick Kids hospital street canvasser goes head to head with an irate passerby. Great combination of hilarity and devastating honesty, with a stand-out cast: Wendy Fox has excellent comic delivery and spunk as canvasser Makayla; and Lydia Kiselyk goes well beyond the straight man wither her performance of Joan, a woman of hawk-like intensity and focus, with more brewing beneath her tightly wound surface. As their initial adversarial dynamic shifts and changes, both come to important realizations.

Four Hours (by Joan Burrows, directed by Helen Munroe). An abduction? A carjacking? When a neighbour’s young child goes missing, local residents pull together and apart. Hoping for the best for the missing boy, residents can’t help but fear this is just one more example of how crime and safety have become critical issues in their area. The play pulls from the headlines (a very recent one, coincidentally) of amber alerts and discrimination, particularly against Muslim immigrants, as secrets and fears emerge among neighbourhood residents. Lovely work from this ensemble cast: Samantha Adams, Armand Antony, Nikki Chohan, Julia Haist, Mitchell Janiak, Tina McCulloch, Zachary McKendrick, Chris Peterson and Rebecca Wolfe. Stand-outs include Janiak, as young new resident Shu, the narrator of the story; and Chohan as Farah, the neighbourhood newcomer who’s forced to defend her own son against residents’ suspicions. Conflict, confessions and closure in this moving, insightful play.

Community, conflict and discovery in New Ideas funny and poignant Week 3 program.

The Week Three program continues to March 27, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 26 is the noon reading:  Omission (by Alice Abracen,  directed by Michela Sisti).

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 3 trailer:

 

Lost youth, family secrets, modern-day parable & silence speaking volumes in New Ideas Week Two program

NIF2014-banner-1024x725Back at Alumnae Theatre for the Week Two program of the New Ideas Festival last night – and this is a very strong program, featuring four excellent – and very different – plays.

The Living Library, by Linda McCready and directed by Stacy Halloran is a delightfully funny two-hander about a young woman who comes to the library to take advantage of the Living Library Program to borrow a “living book” for a career conversation. Ann Marie Krytiuk is a treat as the energetic and driven, but lost, Sylvia; and Scott Moulton is marvelous as her interview subject, senior policy analyst Tom.

Better Angels: A Parable, by Andrea Scott and directed by Pomme J-Corvellec, uses both multi-media and traditional storytelling to great effect to present a modern-day morality tale. Akosua Mans (Keriece Harris), a young woman from Ghana who dreams of a better life in Canada, takes a job as a housekeeper/nanny for Toronto yuppies Leila (Hilary Hart) and Greg Tate (Daniel De Pas), and becomes their domestic prisoner. Caught in their own web of malicious machinations and deceit, the Tates’ plans go terribly awry. Harris does a lovely job as Akosua, shifting from wide-eyed, dreamy naiveté to wisdom and taking power over her situation as an immigrant domestic worker in a bad situation. Hart does a great job with Hilary’s conflicting emotions – domineering, controlling and tightly wound, but sad and lonely, and longing for connection; and De Pas brings a nice balance to Greg’s seemingly easy-going nature, all the while burning with unresolved passion underneath. Excellent use of projection for the set; it was very cool to see the cursor draw it on the canvas curtain as the stage was set, and the close-ups of Akosua’s face really draw the audience to her as a person – not an ethnicity, a skin colour or a service worker, but a person.

The Shimmering Odessa Building or Whatever, by Judith Upjohn and directed by Zoë Erwin-Longstaff, takes us on an unusual road trip of aimlessness, anomie and literature with three intelligent, hip and tech-savvy young women – all set against the backdrop of a scorched earth ravaged by climate change. Outstanding work from the cast: Sharon Belle (Writer/Iris), the driver, both coolly detached and lyrical; Tiana Asperjan (Cali), the cynical wise-cracking, but sensitive, friend riding shotgun; and Janice Yang (Wiki-Wendy) as the teenage backseat tag-along with an encyclopedic mind, who breaks her long silences with salient information and data.

Brockfest, by Joan Burrows and directed by Eric Benson, is a delightful family comedy. Siblings are reunited at Kitty’s (Liz Best) celebration of “not being American” anymore, where secrets are revealed and that nun’s got her eyes on you. Excellent ensemble cast on this one. Best brings the funny as the stressed out and excited guest of honour, also hosting this gathering; and David Borwick is hilarious as her sweet, but somewhat clueless, husband Cal (not to mention very handsome in uniform). Justen Bennett is both deliciously impish and neurotic as Kitty’s brother Les, and John Marcucci is adorably charming as Les’s partner Paul. And Andrea Lyons is perfectly hysterical as Kitty’s and Les’s sister, Sister Leona, who’s taken a vow of silence. Best. Entrance. Ever.

Lost youth, family secrets, modern-day parable and silence speaking volumes – all in all, a seriously outstanding program of short plays. Week Two closes on March 23, so you only have a few more chances to catch it: twice today and tomorrow afternoon.

The Week Two reading is this afternoon: Charles Hayter’s Radical, directed by Darcy Stoop.

The New Ideas Festival continues next week (Mar 26-30) with its Week Three program and reading. Reservations are strongly recommended as this is a popular festival.

Call 416-364-4170 or visit the Tickets page on the Alumnae website.

A world on a stage – scenic work on The Lady’s Not For Burning @ Alumnae Theatre

Hey all –

As promised, here’s the slideshow extravaganza of the work for my recent scenic artist gig on Alumnae Theatre’s production of The Lady’s Not For Burning (designed by Ed Rosing).

Shouts to:

Building crew: Master carpenter Mike Peck, with additional construction by Cody Boyd, Paul Cotton, Gord Peck, Ed Rosing and Mike Vitorovitch.

Painting crew: Scenic artist (me), with Cody Boyd, Razie Brownstone, Joan Burrows, Margot Devlin, Ed Rosing and Dorothy Wilson.

The Lady’s Not For Burning is in its final week on the Alumnae mainstage, running tonight (Wed, Feb 5) through Saturday, February 8 at 8:00 p.m.

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Wit, wonder & wisdom in The Lady’s Not For Burning @ Alumnae Theatre

Lady's Not For Burning - image only“Life, forbye, is the way

We fatten for the Michaelmas of our own particular

Gallows. What a wonderful thing is metaphor!”

– Thomas Mendip in The Lady’s Not For Burning (from director’s program notes)

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of The Lady’s Not For Burning, directed by Jane Carnwath, brings the wit, wonder and wisdom of Christopher Fry’s play to life through sight, sound and poetic wordplay – an excellent cast and a beautiful show.

The marvelous ensemble includes some remarkable stand-outs. Chris Coculuzzi gives us a Thomas Mendip that combines the melancholy philosophy of a Jacques with the good-humoured wit of a Fool, and Andrea Brown is luminous as Jennet Jourdemayne, quirky, sharp-witted and compassionate. Together, their performances show us opposite perspectives of the all too fleeting realization of the nature of the human condition: we live, suffer out our short time in these bodies – yes – and we can choose to bemoan that fact or savour the brief moments we are given. Two sides of the same coin. Chris Whidden, as the put-upon but boyishly optimistic Mayor’s clerk, takes young Richard from boy to man as he stands up for what is right as well as for himself, with particularly sweet bashfulness in the presence of love. Paul Cotton brings to Humphrey Devize a lovely combination of wry wit and desperate longing born of boredom and ennui. Peter Higginson is adorable as the kind-hearted, thoughtful Chaplin who longs to be a musician, and Ian Orr is hilariously convincing as the drunken and disoriented Matthew Skipps.

With big shouts to the most excellent design team: Margaret Spence (costumes), Ed Rosing (set/lighting), Mike Peck (master carpenter), Angus Barlow (sound) and Razie Brownstone (props) for bringing the sights, sounds and textures of this world to life. My personal thanks to the painting crew, who assisted Ed and me with the set: Cody Boyd (who was also Ed’s design assistant), Razie Brownstone, Joan Burrows, Margot Devlin and Dorothy Wilson. And to the intrepid producer team of Barbara Larose and Ellen Green, and stage manager Margot “Mom” Devlin and ASM Tara Gostling for holding this massive production together.

A world-weary soldier longing for the noose. A bright young woman accused of witchcraft. Both eccentric in their own way, standing out from ordinary folk who don’t look beyond their own front doors. The silly superstitious collective mind of the mob. Kind spirits and good hearts. What’s not to love?

Alumnae’s production of The Lady’s Not For Burning continues on the mainstage until February 8, with a talkback with the director, cast and design team after the matinée on Sunday, February 2.

Coming soon to the cowbell blog: The Lady’s Not For Burning set comes to life. A slide show of the scenic painting process.

Sweet romcom reunion – Joan Burrow’s play Gloria’s Guy @ FireWorks

fireworks-bannerGot out to Alumnae Theatre last night to see Joan Burrow’s play Gloria’s Guy, one of the three plays running in rep as part of the FireWorks program up in the studio space.

Directed by Anne Harper, Gloria’s Guy is a sweet romcom reunion of high school friends Peggy (Jennifer Monteith), Gloria (Anna Douglas), Eva (Erin Jones) and Leslie (Sangeeta Wylie), with the unexpected addition of Peggy’s mom Jessie – their former high school teacher – aka “Mrs. Mac” (Liz Best) and the surprise appearance of Gloria’s high school sweetheart Guy (Robert Meynell), who was a no-show on prom night.

It’s October in cottage country, where Guy has returned home after practising law in Los Angeles to work with his brother Jim at the family hotel/cabin, and the gals have come up for a wedding. Old wounds are opened up, secrets are revealed and the gang learns that you can never really go back again – only forward. Nice work from this ensemble cast. Best is hysterical as the nosy and meddling, but well-meaning, den mother of the gang; Douglas gives Gloria a lovely combination of vulnerable and pissed off; and Jones is outrageously funny as “Eva the Diva,” the wild girl of the group who has a secret of her own. Douglas and Meynell have good chemistry, rounding out the mixed feelings of former high school romance, painful moments and the awkward, but curiosity-filled, surprise reunion between Gloria and Guy.

Funny and warm, with its messy family and friends dynamics, Gloria’s Guy is a feel-good, tender romcom good time.

Gloria’s Guy has one more performance: Sat, Nov 30 at 2:30 p.m. Shirley Barrie’s Measure of the World has two more performances: tonight (Thurs, Nov 28) at 8:00 p.m. and Sat, Nov 30 at 8:00 p.m. Norman Yeung’s Theory plays on Fri, Nov 29 at 8:00 p.m. and Sun, Dec 1 at 2:30 p.m., with a noon roundtable about the play before the Sunday performance. All happening upstairs in the Alumnae Theatre Studio.

That’s it for me for FireWorks – I won’t be able to make it out to see Theory (by Norman Yeung, directed by Joanne Williams), but you can check out the post I wrote for Alumnae Theatre’s blog on the SummerWorks 2010 production. I hear the script has been tweaked somewhat, with the lead character now having a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend.

Science, politics & egos collide – Measure of the World @ FireWorks

fireworks-bannerAlumnae Theatre Company opened their FireWorks program this past Wednesday, a new three-play repertory program of original works developed in conjunction with Alumnae’s New Play Development (NPD) group or the New Ideas Festival.

Science, politics and egos collide amidst the passion of discovery and desire for freedom in Shirley Barrie’s Measure of the World, directed by Molly Thom.

The play follows the work of a French expedition, guests of the Spanish government as they strive “to measure the length of a degree of the earth’s arc at the equator near Quito (at the time part of Peru)”* – and determine the exact shape of the earth. Three alpha male scientist egos come to loggerheads as Godin (Paul Cotton), Bouguer (Jason Thompson) and De La Condamine (Michael Vitorovich) struggle with the harsh terrain – extremes of heat and cold, across jungle, swamps and mountains – local government bureaucracy and even their own academic institution over the course of a multi-phased project that takes years to accomplish. All closely observed by the beautiful and mysterious servant Florenza (Jessica Zepeda).

A strong ensemble cast deals with the tech speak well – the mathematical equations and make-shift survey equipment are fascinating if not highly academic. It is the drive and passion of these characters that is particularly interesting – and Vitorovich and Zepeda stand out in this regard. Careers and livelihoods are not all that’s at stake for these characters, it’s freedom – to pursue the work they love without restraint and to return home. For Florenza, it’s freedom from slavery.

No one is as he or she appears – and one can only imagine what further secrets, both personal and political, simmer beneath the surface. It also struck me that Florenza embodies the secrets of this new, Spanish-controlled world. Secrets that the scientists, as French citizens and men, wish to uncover.

The set design (set and lighting by Ed Rosing) was created to accommodate all three plays for the FireWorks program. Neutral shades of beige and pale army green were used on the multi-levelled set, with show-specific furniture and props used to fill in the details. Lighting and, especially, sound (sound by Gabrielle D’Angelo) were tailored for each show, as were costumes (Bec Brownstone). Minimalist and effective, the design serves the overall program in an effective and understated way, allowing the individual plays to dominate the space. With shouts to producer Dahlia Katz, who did triple duty (she was also the production photographer and came out to work on the painting crew).

Measure of the World continues to run in rep with two other plays (Gloria’s Guy, by Joan Burrows/directed by Anne Harper; and Theory, by Norman Yeung/directed by Joanne Williams) until December 1. Check the Alumnae website for exact performance dates and times for each show.

*From Shirley Barrie’s program notes.

Busy times @ Alumnae Theatre

Hey all. Busy times working in theatre in addition to the full-time job this week, and I was in Ottawa visiting friends last Friday/weekend – so haven’t been able to get out to see stuff. Wanted to give some shouts out to the beehive of activity that is Alumnae Theatre, though.

Lots going on at Alumnae this week – with the Toronto Irish Players’ production of Translations continuing its run on the main stage, work on the set for Alumnae’s upcoming production of The Drowning Girls going on up in the studio and callbacks for Alumnae’s January production of A Woman of No Importance going on wherever they can find space. I imagine the New Ideas production folks are around as well, as they get ready to review director submissions and do some match-making with the playwrights.

Here’s what I can tell you about what’s happening right now:

Translations, by Brian Friel – directed for the Toronto Irish Players by Jim Ivers and produced by Geraldine Brown – opened October 18 and runs until November 3. For info and reservations, please visit the TIP website: http://torontoirishplayers.com/

The Drowning Girls, by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic, runs November 16 to December 1 up in the studio. Directed for Alumnae Theatre by Taryn Jorgenson, with assistant director Antara Keelor, this production features actors Jen Neales, Tennille Read and Emily Smith. And a fabulous set by designer Ed Rosing and master carpenter Mike Peck (who, along with Bill Scott, also rigged up the plumbing). Yes – there’s some seriously cool working plumbing in this show! For a peek at this show, take a look here:  http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213drown.html

Last night, Ed and I started painting sections of burlap while Mike finished work on the plumbing – and we were joined by producer Andy Fraser and Alum member Joan Burrows, who gave us a hand with starting the burlap installation on the floor. To be continued today and tomorrow, leaving time for the paint to dry before the actors hit the stage late tomorrow afternoon. Will be back with more on this job, including pics, soon.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend, all!