The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees!

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Laura Larson (as Anastasia Petrov), Dov Mickelson (as Tracey Doyle) & Aisha Jarvis (as Sally Styles) – photos by Joseph Hammond

Better late to the party than never – I finally got out to see the Hogtown Experience at Campbell House Museum last night. And what a party it was!

Written by Drew Carnwath and Sam Rosenthal, and directed by Rosenthal, assisted by Nicola Pantin, the Hogtown Experience is an immersive, site-specific theatrical event that puts you in the middle of the action, which includes over 30 actors and live music, as you rub elbows with politicians, union muscle, gangsters, speakeasy girls, temperance ladies, party girls, moonshiners, a lady doctor and a baseball star.

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David Rosser as Sam McBride

When you arrive at Campbell House (I’d suggest getting there half an hour before show time), you may wander the grounds and the house. Catch some jazz in the basement speakeasy or get an early introduction to some of the characters on the front lawn, where the Temperance ladies are protesting the evils of drink, and mayoral candidate Sam McBride (David Rosser) and his wife Fanny (Kirstin Rae Hinton) are greeting and glad-handing, and the small-town Busch brothers (Matthew Bradley and Tim Ziegler) are anxiously anticipating a meeting with Delacourt to pitch their moonshine. Or wander towards the back, where the Schwartz brothers (Scott McCulloch and Jorge Molina) talk business and the wily, opportunistic Tracey Doyle (Dov Mickelson) inspects his girls before they start their shift – one of which (Anastasia, played by Laura Harding in last night’s performance) makes an appointment with the friendly, socially aware local doctor Libby Prowse (Lori Nancy Kalamanski) for her friend/co-worker Maddy (Lea Beauvais). And there’s a rambunctious, playful and strange little girl (Claire Frances Muir) running around there too.

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Dana Fradkin (as Ronnie McBride) & Drew Carnwath (as Ben Stein)

Newspaper man Ben Stein (Carnwath), who’s dating the McBride’s daughter Ronnie (Sappho Hansen Smythe,* who has been playing the role this summer), gives us an introduction and some ground rules. We are here for a party at the home of union boss Bob Delacourt (David Keeley) on the night before the 1926 municipal election, where the conservative, tee-totalling, penny-pinching incumbent Mayor Thomas Foster (Jerome Bourgault) is up against the more progressive, alcohol-friendly and forward-thinking McBride. From there, the audience is divided into three groups, and each group is guided to a room in the house to start their rotation of three scenes. You may speak to the characters, but only when spoken to.

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Jerome Bourgault as Thomas Foster

My group was first taken upstairs to the ballroom, to a meeting of the Christian Women’s Temperance Union, led by the imperious President Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale), where we hear anecdotes of personal family tragedy that resulted from intoxication. We were then treated to a lively and intense dining room scene, where the McBrides and their supporters – including Delacourt, who remained eerily silent and stone-faced – toasted their good fortune, and a surprise guest made an appearance, decidedly spoiling the good cheer. Then it was down to the games room, where our cheeky hostess Katie (Siobhan Richardson) took all bets, including one from the jovial Police Chief Draper (Robert Clarke); and over to the speakeasy for drinks (cash bar, where you can order wine in a teacup or a can of beer in a paper bag) and music, overseen and kept running smoothly by the tough, but gentleman-like Donato Granta (Conrad Bergschneider).

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David Keeley as Bob Delacourt

From there, where you go and what you see is up to you. You are encouraged to give rein to curiosity and follow characters, open doors – and see what you may find. Young love. Backroom deals upon backroom deals. Desperate, last-ditch efforts to win a race. One of the speakeasy girls in trouble. You won’t be able to catch everything, and you may want to see the show more than once; to this end, keep your program (handed out as you leave) and that will serve as your discount voucher for your next visit. And with all the election and boozy shenanigans – not to mention the red hot jazz – you may want to take them up on that deal.

An outstanding ensemble and fabulous music, creating a unique, intriguing and engaging theatrical experience, and a colourful taste of 1920s Toronto. This humble scribe had a marvelous time at the pre-election soiree at Campbell House last night. The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees – go see it!

The Hogtown Experience runs until August 28 at Campbell House Museum; performance info and advance tickets here; otherwise, it’s cash only at the gate.

In the meantime, you can keep up with Hogtown on Twitter and Facebook; and check out the show trailer:

* Department of Corrections: The role of Ronnie McBride, previously attributed to Dana Fradkin, was actually played by Sappho Hansen Smythe. Due to the scope of the show and the size of the ensemble, there is a rotating cast, so some characters are played by different actors, depending on when you see the show.

Finding stillness & connection in the chaos – Time Stands Still

Carleigh Beverly, Kristin Rae Hinton, Jason Jazrawy & Sam Rosenthal in Time Stands Still

The TSS Collective reunites the cast and team from Eclectic Theatre’s Toronto Fringe 2014 production of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, directed by Jordan Merkur and getting a run of the full version of the script (the Fringe production was abridged for running time) at the Theatre Passe Muraille mainspace.

Out of the more minimalist confines of Fringe, the TSS production of Time Stands Still gets a fully realized set, designed by David Wootton. The New York City loft living room has the easy, lived-in look of inhabitants who don’t spend much time there, with evidence of their travels – tribal masks and mementos from Africa and the Middle East – apparent throughout, the only decoration among the mismatched, haphazard furniture and shelves of books.

It is to this space that photojournalist Sarah (Kirstin Rae Hinton) returns, recovering from serious injuries sustained while covering the war in Iraq – coming home with the assistance of long-time boyfriend and journalist colleague James (Jason Jazrawy) and to their anxious photo editor friend Richard (Sam Rosenthal), who introduces them to his new, much younger girlfriend Mandy (Carleigh Beverly). Richard wants a more simple life and relationship; and, after what he’s seen and experienced, James wants a change for his and Sarah’s life together too. But will it give Sarah what she needs?

This is an excellent cast. Hinton gives us a Sarah who is both sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, a tough as nails and ballsy professional who’s driven and fearless in a war zone, but finds herself frustrated and impatient in everyday situations. Thriving on stress and tension, she’s at her best while viewing the world through the lens of one of her beloved cameras – but far from immune to the horrors she’s witnessed and recorded, the physical scars she bears mirror the emotional ones beneath, leaving her conflicted over a job, a calling, that she loves.

Really nice work from Jazrawy with James and his conflicted responses to this homecoming. An accomplished writer and supportive partner to Sarah, James wants to be strong for her, but is not always sure how to best do that and is struggling with his own psychological injuries; he too loves the work, but is finding it hard to reconcile that with the real and present danger the job presents. Turning his hand to writing about the imagined terrors of horror movies feels safer than mining his own psyche for the real-life atrocities he’s stood in the middle of.

Rosenthal’s Richard is a teddy bear of a guy, a nice combination of wise-ass friend and colleague, with a hint of father figure for Sarah – a man whose life is in transition as he tries a new kind of romantic relationship with a much younger and simpler woman than he’s previously dated. As Mandy, Beverly gives us a sweet, effervescent young woman; child-like in that she blurts out whatever she’s thinking, but far from being a bubble-head, what Mandy lacks in academic intelligence and broader pop culture awareness, she makes up for in compassion and emotional intelligence.

Time Stands Still is a moving, at times darkly funny, look at the physical and psychological dangers that journalists live with – all while capturing and recording those events and moments so the rest of us can see and know what’s going on ‘over there’ from the safe confines of our newspapers and monitors. Finding stillness and connection in the chaos. Go see this – and if you’ve seen it at Fringe, go see it again.

Time Stands Still continues on the TPM mainspace until March 29. You can see the full schedule and get advance tix online here.

Toronto Fringe: Navigating the mine field back home in Time Stands Still

time stands stillTwo broken people return home from covering the war in Iraq to find shifting priorities and changed sensibilities in Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, directed for its Toronto Fringe run by Jordan Merkur.

Photo journalist Sarah (Kirstin Rae Hinton) returns home to writer James (Jason Jazrawy) after narrowly escaping death from a roadside bomb that killed her interpreter Tariq. James is himself recovering from shell shock after witnessing an earlier bombing in extreme close-up – and both are struggling to heal, and getting used to being back home and together again. Photo editor and friend Richard (Sam Rosenthal) has news of his own: a new love in his life, the much younger Mandy (Carleigh Beverly).

The cast deftly and truthfully navigates the mine field of emotions and revelations with dark humour, and there is a brothers-in-arms camaraderie between Sarah and James, and even Richard. Hinton gives a strong, edgy performance as Sarah, a sharp-witted adrenaline junkie, out to save the world and extremely passionate about her work, but now struggling with losing her well-honed distance with her subjects and questioning the value of her photos. Jazrawy’s James is nicely layered, dealing with his own inner conflict, and fiercely protective and in love with Sarah, all while both come to terms with their diverging paths. As Richard, Rosenthal is a warm, affable friend and colleague, a good sport and also managing the changing priorities in his life, his relationship with Mandy being a prime example. Beverly’s Mandy is wonderfully sweet and naïve, but despite Mandy’s lack of academic and shared pop culture knowledge, she has a certain ‘from the mouths of babes’ wisdom.

Time Stands Still is an edgy, darkly funny and deeply human story of relationships and wartime journalism.

The show runs at the Theatre Passe Muraille Main Space until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times.