Toronto Fringe: The ladies rule in bawdy, hilarious tale of scheming & revenge in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Lynne Griffin & Sean Sullivan in The Merry Wives of Windsor - photo by Madison Golshani, Daniel Pascale
Lynne Griffin & Sean Sullivan in The Merry Wives of Windsor – photo by Madison Golshani, Daniel Pascale

Shakespeare BASH’d is back at the Victory Café again for Toronto Fringe this year, with a bawdy good fun production of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, co-directed by James Wallis and Catherine Rainville.

While the infamous drunken sot Sir John Falstaff (Sean Sullivan) schemes to get into the petticoats of Mistresses Ford (Suzette McCanny) and Page (Julia Nish-Lapidus), Mistress Quickly (Lynne Griffin) plays on the hearts and wallets of three prospective suitors vying for the hand of Miss Anne Page (Jade Douris) – and makes a pretty penny while doing so. Ford (Andrew Joseph Richardson) wrongly suspects his wife of infidelity and hatches a plan of his own to catch her out. The women are the wiser, and set the plans of all scheming men astray.

Merry Wives has a great, fun, rollicking ensemble, which rolls out this tale with great speed and dexterity. Stand-outs include Griffin (who Lost Girl fans will recognize as the Aswang lady Halima in season 1’s “Food for Thought”), who is a delight as the cunning Mistress Quickly, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she amasses a bosom full of cash. Sullivan’s wayward knight Falstaff is all lust and bravado, with shades of Jack Nicholson, ever with some unsavoury plot on his mind – even as each of his machinations fall to pieces. McCanny and Nish-Lapidus make a fine pair as Mistresses Ford and Page, the not so desperate housewives of Windsor who prove themselves as resourceful as Mistress Quickly – and more than a match for the silly men. Richardson is hilarious in Ford’s righteous indignation and plotting over a perceived betrayal from his wife; and Zachary Parkhurst is a laugh riot as the barely understandable, pompous suitor Dr. Caius.

With shouts to costume designer Amanda Shaw and Simon Rainville for the music.

The ladies rule in this hilariously funny tale of scheming, revenge and shenanigans.

the_merry_wives_of_windsor-web-250x274The Merry Wives of Windsor continues every day for the rest of this week at Victory Café: Wednesday – Saturday at 7 p.m., with a final performance on Sun, July 12 at 5 p.m. Get your tix ahead of time for this one, folks – and leave yourself plenty of time to get a good seat and a pint.

Fierce family tragicomedy – The Beauty Queen of Leenane @ Red Sandcastle Theatre

BeautyQueenTook a trip to east end Toronto ‘hood Leslieville last night to see the opening of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Directed by Wes Berger, this Beauty Queen features an outstanding foursome of a cast: Rosemary Doyle, Lynne Griffin (who Lost Girl fans will recognize from season one ep. “Food For Thought” as Halima, the nice Aswang lady who becomes Lauren’s patient after cooking up a bad batch of foot soup), Paul Kelly and Sean Sullivan. Doyle is also the owner/A.D. of Red Sandcastle Theatre – if you missed my recent blog interview with her, you can read it here.

The first play of McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy (which continues with A Skull in Connemara and finishes with The Lonesome West; the latter had a fine production mounted by  the Toronto Irish Players a couple of years ago), The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a story of fierce, often brutally funny, family dysfunction – in this case, it’s a mother (Griffin as Mag Folan) and daughter (Doyle as Maureen Folan) at each others’ throats.

Mag and Maureen are begrudgingly settled into their lives of not-so-quiet desperation in their small rural family home – and their dynamic of mutual sniping and vengeful, petty tortures has a cellmate quality to it. Added to the mix are the Dooley brothers Ray (played by Kelly) and Pato (Sullivan), long-time neighbours and, in Ray’s case at least, family frenemies. And Pato’s recent return from work in England to visit for a family do offers an oasis of possibility for Maureen. Since this is a Martin McDonagh play, no one is as they seem, and plans have a way of twisting and turning. And the darkly funny family dysfunction at the Folan house may be far more complex and feral than it appears.

Griffin and Doyle have excellent chemistry as the feuding mother and daughter. Griffin deftly works the layers of Mag’s girlish charm and passive aggressive, high-maintenance Irish mother – and it’s a pleasure to watch her sly, devilish delight as she plots interference. Doyle does a stellar job, giving us a Maureen who, beneath the bored, put-upon 40-year-old spinster, has a deep well of sexuality, ambition and potentially darker passions bubbling near the surface. Kelly is a treat as Ray, the rough and tough-talking simple younger brother who adores Australian soaps, and provides some much needed comic relief. Sullivan is lovely as Pato, a sweet and gentlemanly bachelor of a certain age – full of longing and youthful enthusiasm, like Maureen – but frustrated and underachieving in a job that’s beneath his ambition.

I’ve really come to enjoy McDonagh’s writing. It’s raw, fierce and discomfiting – and pulls no punches (I also had the pleasure of seeing an excellent production of McDonagh’s The Pillowman, mounted by Rarely Pure Theatre last year). McDonagh’s work is not for the faint of heart. Don’t come out expecting the quaint, cozy Irish of Barry Fitzgerald and “Tura Lura Lural” – there’s nothing wrong with that, but you won’t be getting any of it here.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues its run at Red Sandcastle Theatre until February 1,with performances on Jan 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 and Feb 1 at 8 p.m., and a 2 p.m. matinee on Jan 27. Given the popularity of this play, the short run and the intimacy of the space, I highly recommend booking a reservation in advance. You can do so by calling the box office (416-845-9411) or via Rosemary Doyle’s Twitter page.

Production photos by Paul Kelly and Sean Sullivan:

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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.