Toronto Fringe: Coping with loss & freeing the stories in the enchanting, playful adventure Through the Bamboo

Carolyn Fe & ensemble. Set design by Nina Lee Aquino & Farnoosh Talebpour. Costume design by Farnoosh Talebpour. Lighting design by Michelle Ramsay. Photo by Lyon Smith.

 

The Uwi Collective presents a Philippine mythology-inspired adventure in storytelling in the enchanting, playful, poignant Through the Bamboo, running in the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Written by Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos; directed by Nina Lee Aquino, assisted by Mapili; and with music direction by Maddie Bautista, we follow the reluctant hero’s journey of a young girl as she seeks to free her Lola (grandma) from a strange, faraway land ruled by Three Sisters who have outlawed storytelling.

Philly (Angela Rosete) is sad and angry; her beloved Lola (Carolyn Fe) has died and her family is packing Lola’s things all wrong. When she discovers Lola’s favourite story book Through the Bamboo, she also finds Lola’s malong (a multi-purpose Philippine garment, worn here as a sash) tucked inside. She puts the malong on, and it comes to life, whisking her away to Uwi, ruled by Three Sisters—Isa (Karen Ancheta, who also plays Philly’s mom), Dalawa (Marie Beath Badian) and Tatlo (Joy Castro)—who have banished storytelling from the land.

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Marie Beath Badian, Karen Ancheta & Joy Castro. Set design by Nina Lee Aquino & Farnoosh Talebpour. Costume design by Farnoosh Talebpour. Lighting design by Michelle Ramsay. Photo by Lyon Smith.

Upon her arrival, Philly is greeted by the villagers as the one foretold in a prophecy who will free them from their oppression at the hands of the Sisters. All she wants to do is go home, but when she visits Matalino the seer (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) and learns that Lola is there, she partners with two stalwart allies, Giting (Lana Carillo) and Ipakita (Ericka Leobrera), to find her. Along the way, they are assisted by mythical creatures: the sea creature Koyo (Anthony Perpuse), made mute by the Sisters’ magic; and the trickster forest creature Kapre (Perpuse). And all the while, they are pursued by the Sisters’ spy, the formidable flying Ekek, and the fierce horseman solider General T (both played by John Echano). Will Philly be able to save Lola—and is she really who everyone thinks she is? Will the Sisters maintain their vice-like grip on the land, where even memories—which constitute stories—are forbidden?

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Angela Rosete, Lana Carillo & Ericka Leobrera. Set design by Nina Lee Aquino & Farnoosh Talebpour. Costume design by Farnoosh Talebpour. Lighting design by Michelle Ramsay. Photo by Lyon Smith.

It’s a big fun, fantastic ride for all ages as everyday household items and moving boxes transform into a variety of magical creature costumes, props (shouts to props master Farnoosh Talebpour) and places: tennis rackets become Ekek’s wings, a wicker rocking horse transforms into General T, and swimming noodles become bamboo stalks. And lovely, imaginative, high-energy performances from the cast as they shift from our everyday world to the magical world of Uwi.

Rosete brings a feisty fierceness to the strong-willed Philly; hurt and angry, and missing her Lola, her determination and resilience make her a true hero. Fe gives a beautiful, gentle and touching performance as Lola; at first confused and disoriented in her earthly dementia state, Lola’s memory returns, revealing great power and strength. Great comic turns from the Sisters Ancheta, Beath Badian and Castro—reminiscent of the three sisters in the movie Stardust, who age whenever they use their power. Garcia makes for a jolly wise man as Matalino, adding a playful Yoda-like quality to the wisdom. Echano is both comic and intimidating as the flying spy Ekek, bringing to mind the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz; then all menace as the merciless horseback soldier General T. And Perpuse is adorable and puck-like as the mute sea-dwelling Koyo, who must communicate with gestures; and as the mischievous forest-dwelling Kapre, renowned for playing tricks.

A reminder that stories are how we connect, how we remember loved ones we’ve lost—and important tools for working through the grief of that loss. You may find yourself feeling like a kid at story time, and maybe even brushing away a tear or two at the end (I know I did).

Through the Bamboo continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace for three more performances: July 11 at 2:30, July 13 at 6:15 and July 14 at 12:00; visit the show page to book advance tickets online. Definitely book in advance, as these guys have been selling out.

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Magic, puppets, shenanigans & horror in spellbinding, diabolically funny The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy

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Eric Woolfe & something wicked in The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy – photo by Adrianna Prosser

There are stranger things done in the midnight sun other than cremating Sam McGee. And there are more ways to moil for gold – some with even darker consequences.

Eldritch Theatre takes us on a strange, dark and magical adventure with their production of The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy. Created and performed by Eldritch Theatre co-founder Eric Woolfe, and directed by Dylan Trowbridge, the show opened at Red Sandcastle Theatre on Thursday night; I caught the spooky fun last night.

It is 1898 and our charming host for the evening is the affable scoundrel Brimstone McReedy, who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for that which he most desires. Armed with dark mystical objects proffered by Old Scratch himself – bell, book and candle – McReedy joins an infamous gang of grifters. Learning of the gold rush, the gang is bound for Dawson, where they plan to mine gold from the wallets and pockets of prospectors and other fortune-seekers there.

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Brimstone & Epiphany – photo by Adrianna Prosser

Things take a turn when McReedy falls for the boss’s girl, the lovely dark-haired Epiphany Blackburn, and he cheats his way into her heart. Armed with nothing but their wits and determination, they leave the gang and finish the harsh trek to Dawson, where Epiphany goes to work as a dancing girl at Belinda Mulrooney’s Fairview Hotel and McReedy gets to swindling. And it’s all jake for a while. Until jealousy rears its ugly green head and loyalties come into question, culminating in some nail-biting, life-changing matches of wits and card playing as the tale reaches its harrowing finale.

After all, magic always comes with a price and the house always wins – especially when the Devil is dealing.

Weaving the tale with magic, puppetry and a gruesome version of the shell game, Woolfe is a deft and entertaining storyteller. As McReedy, he’s a lovable scoundrel, giving us a lesson in the art of the swindle and incorporating some friendly audience participation before and during the show.

With big shouts to the design team for their work in creating this spooky, evocative period environment: Eric Woolfe (puppets), Melanie McNeill (production design), Kaitlin Hickey (lighting), Jude Haines (sound), Joanne Boland (vocals and piano music) and dark arts guide Magic Mike Segal. And to intrepid producer/box office girl Friday Adrianna Prosser and SM Sandi Becker for keeping it all together.

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Eric Woolfe as Brimstone, with puppet Brimstone – photo by Lyon Smith

Magic, puppets, shenanigans and horror in the spellbinding, diabolically funny The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy.

The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre until Nov 13; get your advance tickets online and have yourself a spooky Halloween good time.

You can keep up with Eldritch Theatre on Twitter and Facebook.

In the meantime, check out the trailer:

Dreams, desires & the drive for freedom in thoughtful & farcical Up the Garden Path

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Virgilia Griffith, Sochi Fried & Marcel Stewart – photo by Lyon Smith

Obsidian Theatre opened its production of Lisa Codrington’s Up the Garden Path, directed by Philip Aikin, at Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) last week – and I caught the show last night, which also happened to be Barbados Night, and the house was packed with an enthusiastic and appreciative, mostly Bajan, audience.

Set in the late 1960s, the play opens in Barbados. When Rosa (Virgilia Griffith) comes to Alma (Arlene Duncan) needing a place to stay, willing to work for her room and board, she is first met with disdain – for Rosa is the daughter of Alma’s late husband and her mother, the town seamstress, infamous for taking other women’s husbands to her bed. But Rosa has skills with a sewing needle and Alma’s son Edmund (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) needs to look his best for an upcoming job interview to be a fruit picker in Canada – and Alma intends for him to wear his father’s suit, which is way too big for him. Alma’s younger sister Amelia (Raven Dauda) is pragmatic about the situation, and possibly even sympathetic to Rosa’s plight, and Rosa finds a reluctant home. When Edmund injures his ankle the day before he’s to leave for the job, and needing the income it would provide, Alma and Amelia disguise Rosa as a man, in the suit she altered for Edmund, and send her in his place. And that’s where the real adventure begins for Rosa – in a vineyard in the Niagara region, where instead of being a fruit picker, farmer Isaac (Alex McCooeye) tasks her with scaring off the large flocks of starlings that plague his grapes. It is there that she is also enlisted as a scene partner by Isaac’s aspiring actress younger sister Laura (Sochi Fried) and – even stranger – is called upon by the ghost of an American soldier (Marcel Stewart) to help him leave this earthly plain.

The storytelling uses elements of farce (so aptly complemented by the set design, with its doors, shutters, window frames and corrugated tin), as well as Shakespeare (young woman forced by circumstance to be disguised as a man) and Shaw (Laura’s prize role is Joan of Arc), fairy tale and ghost story – the once upon a time journey is strong here. The play features some great moments of comedy, and a farcical edge that cuts through to some thought-provoking truths. As Rosa goes from outsider, to fish out of water, to self-discovery, this is also a hero’s journey of discovery and transformation.

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Arlene Duncan, Ronnie Rowe Jr. & Raven Dauda – photo by Lyon Smith

Up the Garden Path’s ensemble is outstanding. As the proud family matriarch Alma, Duncan is a sharp-tongued, formidable force to be reckoned with; a woman who’ll suffer no foolishness, she longs for her son to grow up and become a breadwinner for the family. Dauda’s Amelia is the perfect foil to Alma; resourceful and irreverent, she easily trades humourous barbs with her sister as she helps build her nephew into a man – all the while dreaming of a reunion with her sweetheart in England. As Edmund, Rowe Jr. brings a strong sense of a child-like and wide-eyed man boy; a young man with a serious sweet tooth who must take a job in Canada to help support his family, when all he wants to do is open up a sweet shop. Griffith brings a quiet, but potent, unassuming dignity to Rosa; a young woman reviled for her parentage, but tolerated for her tailoring skills. Buffeted here and there by circumstance and those who have power over her life, Rosa has an inner strength that may even surprise herself. And she’s by far the most sane one of the lot.

Stewart gives a powerful, multilayered performance as the ghost soldier Marcel; a bright, loyal and good-humoured man who struggles with horrific memories of war and racial violence. He longs to leave this earth as much as Rosa wanted to leave the judgement and exclusion she faced back home. McCooeye’s Isaac is comical combination of authoritarian know-it-all and ridiculous, scared little bully; a history nerd and proud 1812 redcoat re-enactor (he’s in uniform throughout), his vulnerability is exposed when he needs to step in as tour guide at Fort George, and his mind set on battling the challenges at the family vineyard. As his drama queen sister Laura, Fried gives an energetic and charismatic performance of youthful exuberance, self-absorption and passion; dying to play Shaw’s Joan of Arc, she’s convinced the role will be her ticket to the big time.

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Virgilia Griffith & Alex McCooeye – photo by Lyon Smith

With shouts to the design team: set/costume designer Anna Treusch, lighting designer Steve Lucas, sound designer Verne Good and production designer Cameron Davis for bringing the vision of these very different environments to life in one space: Rosa’s Barbados town, and the Niagara region farm and vineyard.

Dreams, desires and the drive for freedom in thoughtful and farcical Up the Garden Path.

You should go see this. Up the Garden Path continues in the TPM Mainspace until Apr 10. For advance tickets, call 416-504-7529 or order online.

SummerWorks: Sharing stories to create a new story in deeply moving & playful Trace

HERO-Trace1_72dpi-620x500I attended last night’s opening of Theatre Gargantua’s/Vertical City’s SummerWorks production of Trace at Artscape Youngplace – and left the space both elated and breathless.

Described as a “ghost telling,” Trace – directed by Bruce Barton, who co-created the piece with performers Martin Julien and Michelle Polak – is a unique experience in both the use of the space, and in the relationship between actors and audience. There is no separation between playing space and audience space, and audience members are invited – very gently and respectfully – to assist in creating the story.

Starting with the introductory installation in the cloakroom section of a former classroom (Artscape Youngplace was built from a decommissioned elementary school), the audience takes in a collection of objects, remembrances – many from childhood – as the performers gaze out the window in the adjoining room. Hooks hang from the divider wall of the cloakroom, at small child height; we are also invited to place our bags in the cubbies on the other side, out in the main room of the space. There is a first day of school feeling about this.

Out in the main room, there are table and floor lamps placed around the floor, with several chairs among the lamps. The window that Polak gazes out of has water cascading down it – it’s raining in her world. Julien’s focus is out another window, toward an adjoining outer wall of the building. The chalkboard has text from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein written in cursive, with a small section erased for a game of hangman. Polak will eventually invite several of us to pick a letter, and we gradually decipher the message.

Anecdotes of childhood memory – risks taken, first crushes – intermingle with ghost stories and stories shared by audience members, references and citations from literature, music and childhood games to create the story. The room starts as a blank slate and we all bring what we have into it – and into the story that emerges therein. Sometimes, truth is the biggest dare. Trace will never be performed the same way twice.

At various points during the performance, I stood, sat on a chair and on the floor – and it was on the floor that I felt the most child-like, with that story time feeling. The experience moved me to laughter and tears – and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in that place with Julien and Polak.

With shouts to the design team for the magical, out of time and space environment: Heather Nicol (installation), Michael Spence and Bruce Barton (set), and Lyon Smith (sound).

Trace is a deeply moving, playful and remarkable piece of art and performance work.

The show continues at Artscape Youngplace until Sun, Aug 17 – check here for dates/times.

SummerWorks: Beautifully layered exploration of relationships, class, the struggle for order & mental illness in Complex

complexBumped into actor Tim Walker at the Lower Ossington Theatre on the weekend and found out about Complex, written by Rebecca Applebaum and directed for SummerWorks by Christopher Stanton in partnership with the Koffler Centre of the Arts – and I’m really glad I did.

Set in modern-day Toronto, the title makes multiple references: the Chalkfarm apartment that Darren (Mazin Elsadig) shares with his mother Althea (Beryl Bain); complex number theory, which Darren is playing catch-up on with tutor Sarah (Emily Piggford); and the relationships between Sarah and her live-in boyfriend Jonah (Tim Walker), who’s living with OCD, as well as Darren and his mother, who is suffering from severe depression after the death of her mother – and, as the play unfolds, between Darren and Sarah.

The story in Complex features stark contrasts of class divide, illustrated by the assumptions Sarah makes about Darren’s neighbourhood, activities and relationship with his mother, and about mental illness – both Sarah and Darren struggle to understand the conditions of their respective loved ones. While Sarah and Darren long for order in their lives, Jonah and Althea occupy a different world, grappling with their own inner demons and realities.

Excellent work from this cast! Bain is heartbreaking as the bereft Althea, lost in her grief and confused by her son’s anger and frustration at her debilitating desolation; and Elsadig does a lovely job balancing Darren’s youthful energy with the more adult burdens of looking after his mother – and the conflicting emotions therein. Piggford’s Sarah, like Darren, is frustrated with her loved one’s mental condition, even as she struggles to be supportive and understanding; and she does a great – at times comic – job of capturing the behaviours of an educated, privileged young adult trying to be chill with a low-income teen from a troubled neighbourhood. Walker’s Jonah is a good guy with an infuriating condition, obsessed with the apartment’s locks and fully aware of Sarah’s frustration, and trying to stay positive as he embarks on a group therapy program at CAMH.

Shouts to the design team: set (Laura Gardner), lighting (Siobhán Sleath) and sound (Lyon Smith) for creating the high-energy – at times overwhelmingly busy – urban atmosphere for Complex; the scrim-covered flats, built on PVC pipe frames and sprayed with graffiti, are particularly clever, delivering visual impact and creating cool shadow effects, as well as doubling as set pieces.

Complex is a beautifully layered exploration of relationships, class, the struggle for order, math theory and mental illness.

The show continues at the Lower Ossington Theatre until Sun, Aug 17 – check here for dates/times.