Toronto Fringe: An enjoyable history what-if in charming, entertaining Exposure

Craig Walker, Laurel Paetz & Christopher Blackwell in Exposure - photo by Greg Wanless
Craig Walker, Laurel Paetz & Christopher Blackwell in Exposure – photo by Greg Wanless

I also saw another enjoyable history-inspired piece yesterday at Toronto Fringe: Undershaft & Lazarus Productions’ world premiere of John Lazarus’s Exposure, directed by Kathryn MacKay – running at the Robert Gill Theatre.

Inspired by Louis Daguerre’s ground-breaking photograph of a man getting a shoe shine on the Boulevard du Temple, Paris, Exposure fills in the blanks as it theorizes who that man and shoe shine woman could have been.

Mme. Brillante (Laurel Paetz), former actress and now a purveyor of shoe shines and fortunes, and Daguerre (Craig Walker) are unexpectedly reunited on the Blvd. du Temple outside his theatre as he’s rushing off to present his new invention at the Académie Française in the hopes of getting a development grant. His invention: a camera that captures images on a glass plate; however, his street scene exposures are currently unable to capture people and other moving subjects. Some time later, Mme. Brillante encounters Anonyme (Christopher Blackwell), a young man disappointed in a failed attempt at an acting career now bent on drowning himself. In an effort to prevent his suicide, she persuades him to stop for a shoe shine.

Lovely work from the cast in this historical what-if play. Paetz is intrepid and upbeat as Mme. Brillante, whose years of name changing and acting serve her well as she puts on a cheerful disposition when she needs to; she has a quick, sardonic wit and a kind heart. Walker gives Daguerre a nice combination of brilliance and anxiousness – a man of clockwork habits who is ambitious and driven, at times uncertain of his own talent, but not above accepting assistance. A hard-working artist and scientist, he has not entirely abandoned his humanity for his work. As Anonyme, Blackwell has an affable but entitled air about him; a young aristocrat, he has the flair of nobility in his dress and carriage, but not the snobbery. His treatment of Mme. Brillante, a street vendor, indicates that he judges people by their actions and not by their station in life.

Shouts to set designer Bill Penner and director MacKay for the costume design.

Exposure is a charming and entertaining history-inspired piece on love, art and science, featuring a fine trio of actors.

Exposure has two more performances at the Robert Gill Theatre: July 9 at 9:15 p.m. and July 10 at 4:30 p.m.

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Fear & loathing in real estate with a damn fine all-female cast in Jet Girls Productions’ Glengarry Glen Ross

GlengarryPosterOnline-1 - smallAnd the Mametpalooza continues over at Red Sandcastle Theatre. (I saw Headstrong Collective’s marvelous production of Boston Marriage at Campbell House Museum last Saturday.) This time, it’s Jet Girls Productions’ ballsy all-female production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Anita La Selva.

With this world premiere of the gender switched Glengarry Glen Ross, Jet Girls has a very ambitious first production on their hands – and they weren’t permitted to change a word of the script. The result is powerful, thought-provoking, darkly funny and more than a bit jarring.

Joining director La Selva on this journey is a fine ensemble of local female actors (in order of appearance): Elizabeth Saunders (Shelly Levene), Julie Brar (John Williamson and co-founder of Jet Girls), Françoise Balthazar (David Moss), Laurel Paetz (George Aaronow), Marianne Sawchuk (Richard Roma and co-founder of Jet Girls), Rosemary Doyle (James Lingk and A.D. of Red Sandcastle Theatre) and Robinne Fanfair (Detective Baylen).

With none of the text altered – including character names – and the men replaced with women, the raw and often brutal language of the play comes across as all the more harsh. Violent verbal exchanges highlighted with name-calling and profanity hit harder coming from the mouths of women, but at the same time there is an unsettling naturalism about it. These are women struggling for survival in a merciless, dog eat dog business driven by the mantra “Always Be Closing.” You don’t close, you don’t eat. Slogging through lists of dead leads in hard, changing economic times, the futility and desperation is palpable. Make no mistake, this is no mere cat fight – competition is fierce and it’s the law of the jungle here.

As Shelly “The Machine” Levene, Saunders gives us a compelling and poignant portrait of a salesperson past her prime, an old-school practitioner struggling along the rat race, ravenously desperate to break a losing streak, and avoid falling into despair. Brar does a lovely job with the aloof, pompous young pup Williamson, revealing hints of ruthlessness and entitlement beneath the cool professional exterior. Balthazar gives a riveting performance as Moss; by turns a rampaging bear and snake-like manipulator, there is something of the ticking time bomb in her. Paetz gives nice layers to Aaronow, Moss’s sidekick; mousey in her righteous indignation over the poor state of their leads, and an easy mark for Moss’s machinations – but this mouse wants to roar when she’s backed into a corner. Sawchuk mesmerizes as the slick operator Roma. All sex and charisma, smooth and sharp and the same time, she is a master of language, flirtation and flattery – anything to get what she wants. As Roma’s mark Lingk, Doyle brings a lovely combination of frumpy, gullible naiveté and a devil may care yearning for adventure to this sexually repressed, hen-pecked woman – but is not beyond standing her ground, albeit on shaky legs, when her place in the world becomes threatened. Very nice work from Fanfair as the no-nonsense, unflappable Detective Baylen; while professional in demeanour, she will brook no shenanigans from this group of real estate hustlers during her investigation.

With shouts to costume designer Jan Venus for the sharp, evocative 80s wardrobe.

Fear and loathing in real estate with a damn fine all-lady cast in Jet Girls Productions’ Glengarry Glen Ross. Get yourself out to Red Sandcastle Theatre to see this.

Glengarry Glen Ross runs at Red Sandcastle until April 26. For advance tix, call 416-845-9411 or email redsandcastletheatre@gmail.com