Secrets & dark suspicions in the eerie, Gothic family drama Gripless

GriplessCastBWStanding: David Huband & Amber Mackereth. Seated: Margaret Lamarre.

 

Green Garden Equity Artist Collective gives us a disturbing tale of family secrets and dark suspicions in Deborah Ann Frankel’s eerie family drama Gripless; directed by Frankel and on now for a short run at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

On a stormy night in a small town, brother Ben (David Huband) and sister April (Amber Mackereth) bring their mother Elaine (Margaret Lamarre) home from a birthday celebration dinner in honour of their deceased father Daniel. Uncomfortable and anxious to leave, intimidating younger sister April appears to be the alpha to her more easy going older brother. But try as they might to leave their family home, something Elaine says keeps drawing them away from the door and back into the living room.

As the action unfolds, we learn that Elaine remarried about a year after Daniel’s death; an abusive brute of a man named Tim, who recently had a stroke. We get the sense that there are some uncomfortable unsaid truths in the closet of this family’s history; and memories shift from nostalgic reverie and childhood shenanigans to disturbing discoveries and suspicions—hinting at a troubling and violent dynamic.

Compelling work from the cast in this unsettling, spooky story of family dysfunction and conflicting perspectives. Lamarre’s Elaine is damaged, adrift and also manipulative; poignant yet unsettling, Elaine’s selective memory targets only the happy moments and she seems oddly disconnected from what’s happening right in front of her. As April, Mackereth’s tough-talking, bully exterior masks a deeply hurt, vulnerable child; unforgiving with her mother, April has tender feelings for her big brother, the only one who’s ever been on her side. Huband’s Ben is the perfect foil for Mackereth’s April; wry-witted, quiet and introspective, Ben is clearly the peacemaker in the family—but even his easy-going demeanour gives way to moments of haunted reflection.

Writer/director Frankel, who folks will recognize as Red Sandcastle’s intrepid SM, will be taking over as General Manager when AD Rosemary Doyle heads to Kingston in August as the new AD of Theatre Kingston; multitasking in this production, she’s also juggling box office and SM duty in booth—and created one heck of a dark, atmospheric set and soundtrack.

Gripless has two more performances at Red Sandcastle Theatre: tonight (July 22) and tomorrow (July 23) at 8 p.m.; book tickets in advance at deborahannfrankel@gmail.com or pay cash at the door.

Advertisements

Interview with actor/writer & Red Sandcastle Theatre impressaria Rosemary Doyle

Pretty Red Dress less definedEarlier this month, I had the big wacky fun pleasure of attending Red Sandcastle Theatre’s annual holiday musical panto #DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his …Cat (you can read that blog post here), and it dawned on me that theatre owner/A.D. Rosemary Doyle would be an excellent interview subject for the blog.

Actor/playwright/theatre impressaria Rosemary Doyle runs Red Sandcastle Theatre, a storefront theatre space located at 922 Queen St. East in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto (near Queen/Logan, right next to the Ed’s Real Scoop). Red Sandcastle Theatre is very much a part of the neighbourhood mosaic, where local businesses support each other and the atmosphere has a cozy community feel to it. The theatre’s tag line reads “Anything is Possible” and is described as “so off-Broadway, we’re in Leslieville.” I interviewed Rosemary Doyle over email, about her life in theatre – both as a performer and as a producer – and Red Sandcastle Theatre.

LWMC: It’s been nearly three years since you started Red Sandcastle Theatre, but you started off your life in theatre – quite young – as an actor. Tell us a bit about those early years acting, particularly in theatre.

RD: Yes, I was quite young. It’s hard to pick a starting point really. When I was really little I would sing or dance ballet on the long sofa coffee table my parents had. They were terrified I would take a plunge though the picture window. I did all the school plays, starting in kindergarten, I remember I was Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web in grade school, and got fan mail and love letters from girls in other schools, it was very confusing. When I was eight, I was a finalist in a Talent Show at the Grande Theatre, I sang “Memory” from Cats and “Danny Boy,” and Brian Jackson, a notable conductor, played the piano for me. I still think they were weird choices of love and loss for a little girl. At 12, though, I played Annie in Annie at the Kingston Grand Theatre, to over 800 people a night, and that was it – I was hooked. Any thoughts of being a dermatologist or a cartographer went away. From then until now, I’ve done at least five shows a year. The Red Sandcastle’s been averaging about 42 a year or more. Not all mine, of course, but I am quite hands-on in adding value to any shows that come to the Red Sandcastle and I’m proud of them all. I’ve been really thrilled with the talent and exuberance that the Toronto theatre community is displaying these days.

LWMC: What made you decide to open a theatre space? And how did you come to find the storefront space (a former pottery store that also held classes) at Queen/Logan?

RD: I’ve wanted to have a space forever. In fact, with the magic of Facebook my old high school drama teacher, Gord Love, congratulated me on finally having “My Theatre.” I was reminiscing with my dear friend Allan Day, to years ago, sitting down at the Chinese Laundry Cafe in Kingston and making plans for what we were going to call “The Tiny Theatre” and that was in the 80s. But what made me take the plunge in May 2011, I was newly single, for the first time in 18 years, and I was frustrated that at the time there were no spaces in which theatre artists could do their work and not lose their shirts. I had been doing shows at the Bread and Circus. Jackie English, one of the owners, was a friend of mine, but it had closed, and it seemed to me the waiting lists and money involved for even the extra spaces of the theatres around town were, to a small company, a lot of money. I wanted to open a space that could support theatre artists to play. I have always thought of a theatre as the theatre artist’s canvas, and sure, we can make art without a canvas, but it’s easier with one. I wanted to be able to support that, for other people and myself. I wanted a space where you could talk to me and hear, “Yes,” rather than “No.” So my motto has been “Anything is Possible” and I have tried to stick to that. I guess it was a good idea, as many other spaces have opened since then, so much so that in under three years the Red Sandcastle is thought of as established! So funny!

The space at Queen and Logan was serendipitous. I have lived in Leslieville since the early 90s and plenty of spaces had come up that I had wanted to turn into theatres, but life happens. You get married, have children, you’re busy, but you keep thinking about this idea. Various opportunities come up and your spouse thinks they are a waste of energy and money and too risky, and you agree because you don’t really have any capital to do them properly. But then time passes, you save your money for a dream that may or may not happen, and then life keeps happening and suddenly one day you’re single again. You’re thinking about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, or at least the next year, so you’re sitting in another cafe, this time called Sophie’s, pouring your feelings into a coffee and a journal and you look out the window and a for rent sign comes up across the street. You tell Sophie to hold on a second, you’ll pay for the coffee when you come back. Paul, your neighbour, says he’ll cover it for you, and you go and you see the space. A lovely woman named Helen, whose been running her creative project in there for 16 years and is retiring now, shows you around and you think… it CAN work. What’s the difference this time? Well, apart from the proximity to parking and the good sight lines, you’ve been single for two months and the only benefit you can see of being single at this time is there’s no second opinion telling you it can’t work. Finally, you can spend your savings the way you want to, there’s no one to say no. I truly believe that every overnight sensation is years in the making. The trick is to bank cash when you aren’t doing exactly what you want so you can pounce on opportunities when they arrive.

LWMC: And how did you come up with the name Red Sandcastle Theatre?

RD: R.E.D. (Rosemary Ethel Doyle) are my initials, and Sandcastle is to represent the ethereal and fleeting nature of theatre, like a sandcastle, you build it and then it’s gone, but that’s no reason not to build it. A friend suggested the second bit while we were drinking Veuve Clicquot in the window of the space on the first day I took over the lease, and was thinking “WHAT DO I DO NOW??” I had just given the landlord all my money, an entire year’s rent up front, and he had given me three keys, like the three beans Jack got for his mother’s cow. It’s funny, I found out about two years into running the place that Helen, the previous occupant’s middle name was Ethel, so 922 Queen Street East has been curated by artistic woman named Ethel for going on 20 years now.

LWMC: It’s amazing that you were able to find a space in your own neighbourhood, not far from home. What’s it been like, navigating being a single mom and running a theatre, on top of your acting and writing work?

RD: I’m not going to lie, I’m very busy. But I wouldn’t have jumped into this life if the theatre wasn’t around the corner from my home and my boys. I was at a crossroads, as a single mom should I be giving up this profession to get something more steady for my boys? But what else could I do? And wouldn’t that have taken me away from them more? As my own boss, I can be there for them when they need me. Every morning, I get up early and carpool my son and three other kids to school, I’m still doing my little job at Dundas School for the nutrition committee, and I’m here when they come home for dinner the same as before. If I’m at the theatre, I’m just five minutes away if they need me. They are 16 and 11 now, and my ex and I have been great about being there for the kids as our top priority. I think it’s good that I am busy, I can only imagine what I would have been like doing nothing or working at a job I hate! The theatre has given me lots of opportunities to write, and the ability to put the plays on. With my “PLAY IN A WEEK” Camp for summer break and March break, I write a play based on what the troupe of kids want on the Monday and we put the play on on the Friday. Often my boys are in the camp too. It’s been great fun; I’ve written about 23 shows in the past two years, I even write them for birthday parties. Last August long weekend, I launched the “1,000 Monkeys Playwriting Festival,” which was an idea I wanted to do, thought up that first day with the Veuve. We had 17 playwrights create new works in 24 hours while they stayed overnight at the theatre. My friend Kate teased me once “If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know.” This busy-ness has only added to my creativity, and my boys are pleased that I am happy and not bugging them all the time right at the age they don’t want to be bugged.

LWMC: You’re featured in Red Sandcastle Theatre’s upcoming production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane (directed by Wes Berger, running Jan 23 – Feb 1). Tell us a bit about the play and how you came to produce it at Red Sandcastle.

RD: What a fierce Irish play this is! Martin McDonagh spares no punches. Lynne Griffin and her husband Sean Sullivan and I were sitting in yet another cafe, this time Mercury – are you detecting a trend here? And we were saying that we would love to do something together. Lynne suggested Beauty Queen of Leenane; she said she could play the mother and I the daughter. Perfect, I thought, as Lynne is a sparkly eyed, red-head, just like my mom. Sean would play the love interest. I knew an Irish actor, Paul Kelly, who would be perfect as Sean’s brother. Then when I mentioned the play to Wes Berger, he replied that he loved it, and I said he’s in luck as we didn’t have a director yet! It’s a strange and beautiful fit to have such caring, lovely, people working on a show where people are so purposely cruel. Maybe it resonates with the Irish in me (my parents live south of Dublin), as I find it good and interesting going to these dark places (I guess that explains an 8-year-old’s “Danny Boy”) and Lynne’s so amazing. Every moment of her is delicious! Sean and Paul are a delight, and Wes is like a reverse therapist, mining all my gunk for truth… he assures me it will be cathartic, I think maybe he just wants a really good show. 😉

LWMC: What else have you got coming up at the theatre?

RD: That’s a dangerous question! So let’s stick to January, February… in the middle of Beauty Queen of Leenane’s run from Jan 23 – Feb 1, we have the monthly Jill’s Living Room, an open mic singing night which happens the last Monday, we also have on Jan 21 FANCY PANTS and Slacks and Co., an improv/open comedy night which is run by Kelly Fanson. It happens twice a month or so. GENESIS .. and other Stories opens the first week of Feb, on the 10th of Feb the Illustrated Men are doing a show. Jody Terrio is doing a children’s show on the Family Day Weekend, Jackie English is doing Jane Shield’s one woman show SORBET AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and then we are back to Jill’s Living Room on the 24th, and then Michael Ripley premieres his new play Letters to Saint Rita, which will run Feb 25 to March 2. Also, there are classes, Tracey Erin Smith’s Soulo Class which runs starts Feb 2 and Beth Laing’s weekly acting classes, and Allan C. Peterson’s Weekend Method Acting Class, which runs Jan 25th and 26th, as well as rehearsals for various companies. It’s great to keep the place hopping!

LWMC: Any other projects coming up for you?

RD: After Beauty Queen, I will be directing Sorbet and the Single Girl; this is a remount of a production we did at the Bread and Circus, and that was a remount of a show I did, where I played the part and toured the play to TISH in NYC and we are in the planning stages of an all-woman cast of Julius Caesar. I’m not sure who they want me for, but perusing the email, we seem to be getting together some of the ladies I did a Fringe Richard the Third with. I hope I get to sword fight again. But I am open to projects anywhere.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

RD: If anyone is interested in the “PLAY IN A WEEK” Camp, or the 1,000 Monkeys Playwriting Festival, or just wants to do something, call me. I’m always up for a coffee: 416-845-9411, Oh and ‘like’ the Red Sandcastle Theatre on Facebook, or follow me @RosemaryEDoyle on Twitter, and then you’ll know what’s up, probably around the same time as I do. Thank you so much Cathy, Cate.

LWMC: I answer to both. 🙂 Thanks, Rosemary!

Rosemary Doyle was also featured as the Mom in the Jeremy LaLonde short dark comedy film Out, which screened during TIFF 2013. Check out the trailer:

You can see Doyle performing live in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, running Jan 23 – Feb 1 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. East, north side, just east of Logan). I’ll be there this Thursday for opening night – stay tuned for the scoop on this show.

#DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his… Cat brings holiday panto fun @ Red Sandcastle Theatre

DICKWITFORMAYOR-POS-ON-LINE-1.21Red Sandcastle Theatre continues its annual tradition of holiday fun for all ages with its musical pantomime #DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his… Cat.

Co-written by Jane Shields and Rosemary Doyle (who is also Red Sandcastle’s owner and A.D.), all the classic panto characters are here – with a twist and a decidedly local flavour, including some timely jabs at municipal politics. Inspired by Dick Whittington and His Cat, this version is set in two Toronto neighbourhoods at opposite ends of Queen Street, Parkdale and Leslieville (the latter the location of the theatre), and references local Leslieville shops. Drawing from music theatre and current pop music, the cast belts out tunes from the likes of Annie and Katy Perry – to great fun effect.

The energetic, multi-talented cast takes us on a big wacky fun ride as our young hero Dick Whit (played with adorable, wide-eyed optimism by Allison McCaughey) is inspired by the world-wise Vagrant (fierce style and cockney sass from Brenda Somers) to travel from Parkdale to Leslieville to find his fortune. In Leslieville, Dick encounters Jamie Olisfer the Nasty Chef (played with delicious arrogance and a soupcon of evil charm by Taran Beaty) and his employer the Widow Twankie (Phil Luzi, gloriously larger than life in a series of stunning bright pink wigs) – and Dick’s luck begins to change for the better. That is, until he’s kept up all night by the awesome moves and super-energized go-getter ‘tude of tap dancing brother and sister act King Rat (Andrew Prashad, who brings a lovely sense of verve and naiveté) and Queen Rat (Sarah Murphy-Dyson, who rounds out her performance with an adorably sweet insecurity). Coming to Dick’s rescue is the Cat, an audience favourite at all of Red Sandcastle’s pantos (played by Jackie English with unflappable nerve, cocky charm and cat-like agility), who provides a unique solution to the rat problem. And, of course, the nasty Chef has a disgustingly evil plot and our stalwart hero Dick manages to thwart it with the help of his friends.

With shouts to SM Deborah Ann Frankel, who’s stage managed every panto at Red Sandcastle Theatre, for running sound and lights, and keeping it all together.

You have two more chances to join in the fun at #DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his… Cat – today (Sat, Jan 4) at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. All happening at Leslieville storefront theatre Red Sandcastle Theatre – 922 Queen St. East (north side, just east of Logan, next to Ed’s Real Scoop).