Melanie Peterson’s Anywhere From Here a heartfelt, beautiful mix of playful, introspective & melancholy

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Melanie Peterson – photo by Bri-anne Swan

Saskatoon-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter/actress Melanie Peterson celebrated the launch of her new CD Anywhere From Here at The Piston last night, with guest artist Bri-Anne Swan opening the festivities. And what a celebration it was!

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Bri-anne Swan

Swan opened with a short solo acoustic set of mostly original songs, opening with a gorgeous interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Featuring crystal clear vocals, with a subtle haunting, wistful quality, Swan’s lyrical storytelling includes hints of folk – her latest CD Letters Home also includes a Lightfoot cover of “Now and Then” – and country (opening track “Have You Seen My Ghost”). Her sounds conjure up images of windswept, lonesome plains, big skies and misty, strange forests. Give her a listen/look-see on her YouTube channel. Bri-anne Swan is also the cover designer/photographer for Anywhere From Here.

Then, the main event. I first met Melanie Peterson about two years ago, when she was performing in a line-up of amazing, talented women at ovarian cancer fundraiser She’s Listening II, and I interviewed her last year. Peterson has been described as Mary Poppins with a broken heart. The songwriting is genuine and self-aware, and there is a positive tone even in the heartbreak. In fact, the progression of the songs on Anywhere From Here – which Peterson and her band played from top to bottom – reads like the life of a romantic relationship. From the initial magic sparks in “Truth Talking” and “Fallback Plan,” to words of warning “Where There’s Smoke (Lust Ain’t Love),” to the devil may care of “Just the Right Amount of Wrong,” and into the stall in “Holding Pattern” and when it’s over in “I Miss You Already” – she’s got all the feels. There are also lovely expressions of gratitude here (“A Path Laid Out Like Gold,” featuring backing vocals by Kasandra Sharpe) and love that’s so good (“A Gift” – the CD’s title comes from these lyrics).

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Melanie Peterson

Peterson’s sounds feature folk, pop (including a kicky Beatles-inspired riff in “Fallback Plan”) and country, with some reggae flavour (“Truth Talking”) – delivered with lovely, lilting vocals and sweet harmonies. Joining Peterson (guitar, lead vocals) last night – and also playing on Anywhere From Here: Mitch Girio (guitar, backing vocals and producer – he also produced Swan’s Letters Home), Pete Lambert (drums, violin, backing vocals) and Peter Collins (bass, backing vocals). By the time they got up to play their set, the room was packed with enthusiastic friends, family and fans – so much so that the crowd coaxed three encore songs, including “Cinema Girl” (my request – thanks again, guys!) and “Unbreakable,” from Peterson’s Unbreakable CD.

Melanie Peterson’s Anywhere From Here is a heartfelt, beautiful mix of playful, introspective and melancholy. Wrap your ears around it soon.

You can keep up with Peterson on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Soundcloud, among other platforms – see her website for all the platforms.

Here’s the poppy, fun the video for “Fallback Plan”:

Department of corrections: The song “Just the Right Amount of Wrong” was originally written as “Just the Right Side of Wrong” – that has been corrected and the link to the video has also been added.

 

 

Bittersweet memoir of lost love in A Play on Passion

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Patricia Delves & Gabriel DiFabio in A Play on Passion – photo by Danielle Capretti

A young crime novelist meets with a grand dame of Canadian theatre to ghost write her memoir – and gets a lesson on love in A Play on Passion. Written by G.D. Corkum and Patricia Delves, and directed/produced by Danielle Capretti, the play is being presented as a rehearsed reading for two performances at the Blake Thorne Studio.

A renowned stage actress born and raised in England, Veronica Devereaux (Delves) is chilly and aloof with wordsmith William Adkins (Gabriel DiFabio) when he first arrives, put off that their publisher has sent a writer with no knowledge of the theatre to write her story. The two soon find some common ground in their mutual, dogged pursuit of their respective arts – against the odds and the will of their parents – and Veronica’s icy veneer melts as she discovers a kindred spirit in William. As Veronica’s stories veer from the professional to the personal, her retrospective of love and passion touches a chord in William, who is struggling in his relationship with his girlfriend. And shared stories become shared wisdom.

A Play on Passion is a lovely two-hander, written with heart, humour and insight. Delves is a delight as Veronica, giving her both a regal dignity and a devilishly playful sense of humour. An actress of advanced years with a razor-sharp wit and a passion for life, her curiosity and verve have been tempered by decades of experience in life and on stage, but she remains frank and unapologetic of her choices. Wounded, but not destroyed, by regret. DiFabio is full of youthful charm and drive as William, giving us layers of creativity, sensitivity and sexuality. His parents expected him to be a plumber, but he chose instead to mine the human psyche for its dark and light desires to create stories of noir intrigue. At a crossroads with his girlfriend, he finds himself at a loss, aware that this is something new and wonderful, but scared to death of what it all means.

A bittersweet memoir of lost love, served with the wisdom of hindsight, in the intimate, moving and witty A Play on Passion.

A Play on Passion has one more performance today (Sat, Nov 21) at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are PWYW (pay what you want) at the door. You can call ahead for reservations at 416-762-4364; seating is limited, so book ahead or get there early.

The Blake Thorne Studio is located at 720 Bathurst St., Suite 401 – it’s the warehouse turned office building just south of the Randolph and Annex theatres (right next to the elevator – see the door with the kick-ass art/signage on it).

SummerWorks: A young woman’s journey through confusing, crazy times toward empowerment & love in The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely

TheEmancipationofMs.Lovely-400x580“Today my heart broke,” said the seed, “it itched and ached, I was smashed to pieces.”
“Ahh,” said the burning sun, “you were growing, to blossom you have to break.” – Ngozi Paul

With today’s hand-held devices, and instant news and social media access, bad news travels even faster than before. The nature of the injustices we see – particularly those against marginalized and racialized people, and especially women and children – coupled with the sheer amount of information bombarding us every day, can be overwhelming and exhausting as we try to absorb and make sense of it all. All while we go about our own daily lives in search of growth, healing – and love.

It is this world that the heroine of The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely must navigate as she becomes herself and reaches out into the world for love. Written and performed by Ngozi Paul, directed by d’bi.young anitafrika, choreographed by Roger C. Jeffrey – and featuring music, performed on stage, by musicians/composers Waleed Abdulhamid and DJ L’Oqenz AKA Non – the play is an exciting offering of SummerWorks’ 2015 theatre series, running at the Factory Theatre Studio.

Lovely’s story is told through a series of a present day scenes of a sexual encounter and flashbacks to her youth. Growing up with her mother and grandmother, Lovely danced and sang to Jem and the Holograms, aspired to the strength of TV’s Wonder Woman, and adored Paula Abdul. Then came an interest in boys, and with it the pressure to “be cool,” and to behave and dress for them – something that Lovely struggles with, being the energetic girl that she is, and one who wears her heart on her sleeve. Then, the discovery of sex and intimate relationships – easily hurt with her heart out there like that – and the detachment of casual hook-ups and infidelity. Constantly getting the message – from family, friends, boyfriends and media – that her body and sexuality don’t belong to her, she loses sight of her true self, and judges herself and her body in the reflections of others. Until she has to ask herself: “What are you doing?”

Woven throughout Lovely’s story, in first person voice-over, is the story of Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman, a 19th century black woman who was paraded around Europe as a human zoo attraction, her large buttocks used as a selling point – a “specimen” of an exotic black female, hyper-sexualized and exploited. So much so that after her death, her bones and vagina were on display in France for 200 years. Of Baartman’s story and its inclusion in the play, Paul writes: “On a quest to understand how I learned to love, what I understand about my body, my life, a woman’s life and what a black woman’s life means in the 21st century, I was introduced to reflections of myself in the cellular memory of Sarah Baartman.”

Brilliant performance from Paul – and one that includes movement, dance and physical theatre. Her characterizations are engaging and truthful, with a lovely combination of comedy and poignancy – from her watchful and critical grandmother, who doesn’t want shame brought upon the family; to the contagious energy of their church preacher, who blames Eve for man’s falling out with God; to the men who try to seduce her and those who succeed. And the bright-eyed, open-hearted Lovely – excited about growing up, and full of desire and longing. Longing for more than just good sex, but for love. While Paul’s story includes aspects specific to women of colour, it resonates with all women.

The minimalist set is very effective for this production (something that director young anitafrika pushed for as an alternative to Paul’s vision of a more multimedia, high-tech set-up). The nine identical full-length mirrors that cup the playing area serve to reflect the action of Lovely’s story, allowing for viewing at multiple angles. And the way the mirrors are used throughout shifts from child’s fairytale fantasy props to silent reflections of judgment and negative thoughts about body image.

A young woman’s journey through complex, confusing and crazy times toward ownership of her body and sexuality on the way to finding love in the powerful, high-energy and inspirational The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely.

The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely continues at the Factory Theatre Studio until Aug 16 and includes a talkback after the show – check the show page for exact dates/times.

Toronto Fringe: Beautiful slow dance of intimacy & memory in Ninety

William MacDonald & Nicole Fairbairn in Ninety - photo by Dahlia Katz
William MacDonald & Nicole Fairbairn in Ninety – photo by Dahlia Katz

Saw another lovely two-hander at Toronto Fringe yesterday: Naked Goddess Productions’ Canadian premiere of Ninety, written by Joanna Murray-Smith and directed by Mercy Cherian – running at the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace.

Isabel (Nicole Fairbairn, also the show’s producer) and William (William MacDonald) meet for 90 minutes in Isabel’s flat before William leaves to get remarried. Former lovers, now divorced, they meet to say the things previously left unsaid – and as they do, we witness them relive key moments in their lives together through shared memories, happiness and tragedy. It is erotic, funny and heartbreaking to watch them run out the clock in the final moments together.

Tender and passionate performances from Fairbairn and MacDonald. Fairbairn’s Isabel is crazy vivacious, sexy and creative – and extrovert who lives life at full speed ahead and loves to tease, playfully torment, even. Working at restoring a painting, she has a patient appreciation for the painstaking process, noting the evolution of the image as the couple on the canvas becomes clarified and more vivid. Rather like the unfolding of this meeting with William. MacDonald’s William is a cocky, charming extroverted introvert, an actor and former drama teacher who’s hit the big time on the small screen. Compelling chemistry between these two actors as they play out the love, loss and reunion of these characters struggling for closure and forgiveness.

With shouts to Lisa Sciannella’s set and costume design.

Ninety is a beautiful slow dance of intimacy and memory, featuring lovely performances from Fairbairn and MacDonald.

Ninety has two more performances at the TPM Mainspace: July 9 at 7:30 p.m. and July 11 at 12:00 p.m.

Delightfully vicious melodramedy with laughs that bite in Creditors

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Liisa Repo-Martell & Noah Reid in Creditors – photo by Michael Cooper

First trip out to The Coal Mine Theatre last night to see the company’s production of August Strindberg’s Creditors, adapted by David Greig and directed by Rae Ellen Bodie.

An intimate space (at 798 Danforth Ave., below the Magic Oven), Coal Mine is a storefront-style space – in this case, the black box has been set up with thrust staging, the audience in a tight horseshoe around the playing area. All the better to be flies on the wall for this trio of love, jealousy and revenge, played out in a series of three two-handed scenes.

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Noah Reid & Hardee T. Lineham in Creditors – photo by Michael Cooper

Watching Creditors is like seeing Shepard meets Chekhov – the characters are embedded deeply under each other’s skin, and love is obsessive, desperate and even child-like. You just know that it will all end in tears. Gustav (Hardee T. Lineham) meets Adolph (Noah Reid) at a bayside hotel, where Adolph is staying with his older wife Tekla (Liisa Repo-Martell). Under the guise of being friendly and helpful, Gustav proceeds to burrow inside Adolph’s head, sewing seeds of doubt in himself, his work as an artist and his marriage. The devil appearing with a smile and a caring tone, offering assistance even as he lays waste all in his path (see Lineham talk about Gustav and evil here).

Creditors is a period piece that roars today. Darkly funny and acutely intelligent, it’s a sharp look at relationships, and how those involved are molded and changed. How imperceptibly the thoughts, ideas and expressions of the one you love can seep into your consciousness. It is a powerful examination of the power dynamics of older and younger, experience and innocence, artist and muse; the give and take of relationships. And in that taking, one becomes indebted to one’s husband, wife, lover – particularly where there is an imbalance of power and especially when one has taken too much. One will always owe the other. And if you run out on your bill, someone may come after you.

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Liisa Repo-Martell & Hardee T. Lineham in Creditors – photo by Michael Cooper

Bodie brings an excellent trio of actors to this power play of obsessive love and revenge. Reid’s Adolph is boyishly sweet, naïve and guileless, possessing of a pliable, open-mindedness that may appear weak at first, but is more about youthful optimism and energy. Manipulated by Gustav, the starry-eyed young lover turns green-eyed with jealousy, his crutches and poor health an outward sign of his inner frailty. Lineham’s Gustav is deliciously understated in his evil intent; calculating, bitter and vengeful – but seasoned enough to know that vengeance is best served cold. It is both fascinating and abhorrent to watch as he plays puppet master to Adolph and Tekla, making them dance to his tune and then cutting the strings. Repo-Martell is luminous as Tekla; older than Adolph and beginning to feel her age despite the nervous girlish giggle she maintains, while she loves passionately and fully, she is forever dissatisfied – her first husband too old and her second too young – a spider caught in her own web. And yet, we feel for her as a woman whose options are limited, living in a time in which a woman must live through a man.

With shouts to composer Ted Dykstra for the lovely, cascading classical piano arrangement; Andrea Mittler’s lush set, with its oriental rugs and golden frames; and Ming Wong’s rich period costuming.

Creditors is a delightfully vicious melodramedy with laughs that bite and a stellar cast.

Creditors continues its run at the Coal Mine Theatre until May 17. Advance tix are strongly recommended – you can purchase them online here.

In the meantime, check out these other video chats: Repo-Martell talks about relationships within the play and Reid talks about the cutting comedy. You can also keep up with Coal Mine Theatre on Twitter.

Magic, heart, comedy & truth in and out of love (again) in 52 Pick-up remount

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Playing one of the four rotating couples in the production, Ruth Goodwin & Alexander Crowther toss the deck into the air in 52 Pick-up

Tell me a story.
Real or made-up?
Both.
Happy or sad?
Both.

These are the opening lines of TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi’s 52 Pick-up – produced by the Howland Company, and directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia – setting the stage for a random, non-linear piece of two-handed storytelling about the beginning, middle and ending of a relationship. After delighting sold-out houses at last year’s Toronto Fringe, then going on to The Best of Fringe, the production is getting a remount at Fraser Studios.

52 Pick-up has a performance rotation of four couples: two guy/girl, one girl/girl and one guy/guy. I’d previously seen both guy/girl couples: real-life couple Hallie Seline/Cameron Laurie and Ruth Goodwin/Alexander Crowther. The remount features two new actors, replacing co-directors Ch’ng Lancaster and Santalucia, who both acted in the Fringe production: Llyandra Jones and Alexander Plouffe, who stepped in to play half of the same-sex couples (with Kristen Zaza and James Graham, respectively). I saw the girl/girl couple (Zaza and Jones) yesterday afternoon.

For those who haven’t seen 52 Pick-up, it goes something like this. At the top of the show, the relationship has already ended and the couple decide, together, to tell us their story. The order in which the story is told is dictated by the random selection from a deck of cards, tossed into the air, each card containing a word or phrase that defines the scene they’re about to play out for us.

So, between the four rotating couples and the random running order, you’ll never see the same story the same way twice – even with the same couple. The outcome can also result in some happy coincidences, like yesterday when the “Psychic” scene came right after a scene in which psychics were discussed. Each couple makes it clear that they’re telling us a story, winding in and out of scenes and returning to us, the cards on the floor and the box into which the discards go. Speaking directly to us – and like the “How do you know her?” scene – sometimes gently interacting with someone in the audience, the actors charm, engage and move us. It’s like hearing two friends talk about how they met, courted and gradually grew apart before breaking up – and even though the story is told out of order, your mind wants to put it together, like a puzzle, in linear format. And, like most break-ups, there isn’t necessarily a readily definable ‘why’ – and, in many cases, it’s about two people coming to realize that they just don’t fit together.

For those who have seen one of the guy/girl pairings, Zaza takes on the “girl” role and Jones the “guy.” In many respects, it would be more helpful to describe the couple as Person A and Person B. This is not about imposing heteronormative dynamics on the same-sex couples, it’s about showing two personality types come together, and the way the two succeed – or fail – to connect. Seeing a same-sex couple in this show, especially for those unfamiliar with such a relationship, highlights how romantic relationships aren’t so dependent on sex and gender as they are on personal character dynamics, lifestyle issues and wanting the same things from life.

Zaza and Jones have great chemistry, telling us the story of this couple with a playful sense of awkwardness, passion and romantic friction – with great comic timing and emotional connection. This couple is adorably awkward, earnest and committed, from the brief meet cute over the bladder health benefits of cranberry juice to the sniping over how to chop carrots – funny, moving and above all truthful. Jones brings a lovely bashful, soft butch quality to her laid back, home body character, while Zaza is the bubbly, assertive and outgoing femme – and we’re sad to see these two characters part.

52 Pick-up has all the magic, heart, comedy and truth of falling in and out of love. Now, if I can only work out my scheduling to see the guy/guy couple. Go see this – or go see this again. And again.

52 Pick-up continues at Fraser Studios until March 22. Seating is limited, so booking ahead is strongly recommended – you can do so online here (and see the full schedule and what couple is on when).

SummerWorks: Joy, energy & pathos in If Hearts Could Bloom

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Amy Wong & Tamara Kailas

Another delightful group of young actors opened their SummerWorks show at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night: the Sears Drama Festival production of Bur Oak Secondary School’s show If Hearts Could Bloom, written by James Croker and Cameron Ferguson, inspired by a story by Preston Lam.

Directed by Ferguson, with choreography by Ferguson, Croker and Christel Bartelse, and film directed by Cody Clayton, If Hearts Could Bloom combines clown, comedia and physical theatre to tell a story that tackles some serious issues: individuality/conformity, bullying/courage, sexism and harassment, ageism, greed and power, and gender identity.

A short, silent film sets the stage for the social order of this world. A Mad Scientist (Jeremy Chong) creates clowns with yellow hearts, but when he tries something different – a purple heart that makes the clown behave differently than the others – Corporate Greed Man (Jeremy Tremblett) responds with an emphatic No! The Mad Scientist caves in, apparently needing the money, and goes back to using yellow hearts. And off we go, into the live onstage journey of a special young clown, born with a purple heart.

There are some truly lovely moments in this show: the sweet, fast-paced meeting, courtship, marriage and arrival of a baby for Everyperson’s Mom (Kainaat Rizvi) and Dad (Cody Clayton) – and the delivery scene with the Doctor (Shareesa Haniff) was hilarious. And Everyperson (Tamara Kailas) and Everywoman (Amy Wong) had an equally adorable meet cute at a children’s birthday party, where Everywoman is the only kid who doesn’t think Everyperson is a freak; the two actors did a lovely job with this bashful, burgeoning relationship. I also loved the school bus bit and the clown Elvis (Bianca Dias, who also co-directed the film segment) at the variety show, as well as the squeals of delight from Everyperson’s rubber chicken bit – the laughter was contagious. This is a show that keeps the audience engaged and attentive, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Ultimately, this is a show about love and courage.

If Hearts Could Bloom is a hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and thought-provoking multi-media clown show, featuring a bright young cast who bring all the joy, energy and pathos.

If Hearts Could Bloom continues its run for two more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman: tonight (Fri, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, Aug 16 at 1:30 p.m.