Outrageously fun, horrific good times in Space Opera Zero!

Clockwise, from top left: Eric Woolfe, Lisa Norton & Mairi Babb. Set & costume design by Melanie McNeill, assisted by Emily Butters. Lighting design by Michael Brunet. Photo by producer Adrianna Prosser.

 

Eldritch Theatre returns with more outrageously fun, horrific good times with Space Opera Zero, written by Eric Woolfe and directed by Dylan Trowbridge. Based on Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean tragedy The Changeling, Space Opera Zero! is a space horror erotic macabredy that combines poetic language, a B-movie/pulp fiction sensibility, feats of prestidigitation, 30s slang, mask and puppetry, operatic tragedy and a lesbian/alien love triangle. Space Opera Zero! opened on Friday at Red Sandcastle Theatre; I caught it last night, in an enthusiastic, sold out house.

Our story begins in 1930s America, where intrepid lesbian pilot Emily Trueheart (Lisa Norton) and mad scientist Hjalmar Pomeranki (Eric Woolfe) set off—in a space ship Pomeranki designed—on a mission where no man has gone before. Forced off course, they land on a strange faraway planet, where Emily rescues Princess Jenora (Mairi Babb) from certain death in the jaws of a vicious alien creature—and the two fall instantly in love.

Things are peachy keen until the Princess’s father, the Emperor (puppet, Woolfe), orders her to marry a fearsome tentacled alien (Norton) for the sake and safety of their planet. And while the Princess makes an unsavoury deal with the Emperor’s servant Doggo the Mutant (Woolfe) to get out of the marriage so she can be with Emily, Pomeranki is hatching an apocalyptic plan of his own back at the space ship. Caught in a web of lies and deceit, things go from bad to worse for the Princess; desperate to have things go her way, she enlists the aid of her maid/sex robot Ro-Berta (puppet, Woolfe) to distract Emily.

Will true love find a way in this faraway universe—and will there be any universe left to make sweet nookie in?

Big-time LOLs, twists and turns, and surprises from this engaging, energetic, uber-talented cast. Norton’s Emily Trueheart is the definition of moxie, combined with old-fashioned romantic; taking names and no guff (especially from men), Emily is a pioneer and explorer with the guts of a warrior and the heart of a poet. Woolfe does a stand-out job, juggling multiple hilarious and poignant characters, utilizing mask and puppetry. Notably the verbose mad scientist Hjalmar Pomeranki, who seems a nice enough fellow but has a dark purpose in mind; the reviled, put-upon servant Doggo the Mutant; and the loyal, sex-curious robot Ro-Berta. Babb gives the lovely Princess Jenora a slinky, femme fatale edge; driven to extreme measures to achieve her heart’s—and loins’—desire, the Princess risks painting herself into a corner.

With shouts to the outstanding interstellar design team: Melanie McNeill, assisted by Emily Butters (set and costumes), Michael Brunet (lighting) and Christopher Stanton (sound). And to stage manager Sandi Becker, for keeping it all running smoothly and showing us how to navigate our way through the set to access the washroom.

Space Opera Zero! continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre until December 2; advance tickets available online. It’s an intimate space with limited seating, and a super popular company getting great buzz, so advance booking strongly recommended.

Check out the cool trailer:

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Taming the Shrew like it’s 1989 in sharply witty, playfully bawdy, LGBTQ+ Bard’s Bus Tour

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Geoffrey Armour & Siobhan Richardson – photo by Dahlia Katz

Driftwood Theatre Group launched its annual Bard’s Bus Tour earlier this month, this time with a 1980s Toronto Pride take on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Driftwood Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith and running this week at Toronto’s Withrow Park.

A challenging play to produce for modern-day audiences, given its dynamic of patriarchal dominance tinged with misogyny, Smith and company decided to take the opportunity to present the play from a contemporary point of view, exploring themes of identity, consent and equality.

Set in 1989, Lucentio (Fiona Sauder) and Tranio (Paolo Santalucia) travel from small-town Ontario to Toronto to experience the sights, sounds and possible romantic entanglements of Pride. Upon their arrival, they witness a family matter gone public, as Baptista (Renée Hackett) engages in a battle of words with Hortensio (Drew O’Hara) and Gremio (played by various company members, in mask), both would-be suitors to her youngest daughter Bianca (Tahirih Vejdani). Baptista refuses to let anyone marry Bianca until her eldest daughter, the wild Katharine (Siobhan Richardson) is wed first, an edict which prompts Hortensio to enlist the aid of his old friend Petruchio (Geoffrey Armour), newly arrived from Hamilton, recently furnished with a great inheritance after his father’s death and seeking a wife.

In the meantime, Lucentio has fallen for Bianca, and they* and Tranio devise a plan to woo her, whereby they switch identities so Tranio can present Lucentio as a tutor to Baptista’s household. Meanwhile, Petruchio and Hortensio have hatched a similar plan, placing Hortensio as a music teacher. The initial spark between Petruchio and Katharine becomes apparent as they begin a game of wits and dominance. They marry on the day of the Pride Parade, and he immediately takes her away to his home in Hamilton where he begins the process of taming her as the two test their boundaries. Add to this wacky mix are two Vincentio’s (Lucentio’s father): a pedant enlisted by Tranio to play the part in order to validate the dowry offer and the real Vincentio, who arrives searching for his child.

Artfully staged, with a minimalist set comprised of modular, movable Tetris pieces (designed by Smith), and utilizing commedia dell’arte masks (for Gremio, Vincentio and the various servants, each played by various members of the company), puppetry, inventive props, and outrageous and colourful 80s costuming (Melanie McNeill), Driftwood’s The Taming of the Shrew challenges our preconceived notions of this play in a battle of equals, loving who they want to love and how they want to love.

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Paolo Santalucia & Fiona Sauder – photo by Dahlia Katz

Shouts to an outstanding ensemble, with its high-energy performances and totally rad a cappella renderings of favourite 80s pop tunes (arrangements by Tom Lillington). Armour is both charming and rough as Petruchio, a ruffian with a loving disposition beneath the lusty denim and flannel exterior. Richardson is fierce and unforgiving as the neglected Katherine, whose heart longs for love beneath that scrappy attitude; she consents to soften under her husband’s direction as they set the terms for their relationship of equals. Sauder is adorably love-stricken and determined as the floppy-haired cutie pie Lucentio; and Vejdani’s Bianca is a small but feisty gal under the good little sister exterior. Hackett is a strong negotiator and drives a hard bargain as the noble, put-upon mother Baptista; and is hilarious as Petruchio’s laid-back servant Curtis. Santalucia is a delight as the sharp-witted, mercurial and flamboyant Tranio; and O’Hara gives a hilarious turn as the spurned and opportunistic Hortensio.

Taming the Shrew like it’s 1989 in Driftwood Theatre’s sharply witty, playfully bawdy, LGBTQ+ Bard’s Bus Tour 2016.

The Taming of the Shrew continues at Toronto’s Withrow Park until this Sunday, July 24 – please note the 7:30 start time. Toronto performances include the following extras:

July 20: Pre-show chat (6:45 p.m.) with Dr. Nikki Cesare Schotzko, University of Toronto

July 21: Intermission show by 80s throwback a cappella band Retrocity; post-show chat with the actors

July 22: Pre-show chat (6:45 p.m.) with Headmistress Shaharazad

Shrew then moves on to various locations across Ontario till August 14; check here for cities, dates and seat reservation info.

*In this production, the part of Lucentio has been cast to be gender fluid, identifying as neither male nor female; therefore, the pronoun “they” is used.

The power of words, destiny management & three rawkin’ witches in stage adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters

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Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters – photo by Heather Corner

An iron tea pot sits atop a small wooden stool, placed in the centre of an upside down wooden table. Jolly Elizabethan music fills the space as the audience assembles. This is the stage set at Red Sandcastle Theatre, a minimalist design about to contain a world of magic, plots and Shakespearean homage in Socratic Theatre Collective’s production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, adapted by Stephen Briggs and directed by Socratic Theatre founder/A.D. Liz Bragg.

The play Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters is an adaptation of the sixth novel of Pratchett’s Discworld series; Socratic Theatre has previously produced adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s Mort and Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment. Sadly, Pratchett died on March 12 – and his work has had a profound effect on the company, so Socratic Theatre is dedicating this production of Wyrd Sisters in his memory. And if the audience’s delighted reaction is any indication, they’ve done him proud.

Scheming nobles. Travelling players. Three witches. Regicide. A secret foundling whisked away to safety. A professionally frustrated and ethically conflicted Fool. Love. This play has it all. Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s work, particularly the Scottish play, with shades of Hamlet, Wyrd Sisters is a good fun adventure with a great comic sensibility – and a very fine cast.

The three witches are a treat: S.R. Kriger as the wry-witted, resourceful (often outside the box) Granny Weatherwax; Amanda O’Halloran as the small of stature, but scrappy and irreverent, Nanny Ogg; and Madryn McCabe as Magrat Garlick, the bright and lovely young rookie who’s big on theory, but green on experience of both witchcraft and the world in general. The three men in the cast play multiple roles, male and female, to great effect. Daniel Cristofori is hilarious as the grasping, but ineffectual and neurotic Duke, as well as the less than evil demon WxrtHlt-jwlpklz. Basel Daoud does an excellent job juggling such varied characters as the plotting, power hungry Duchess and the dim-witted, shifty-eyed Sergeant. And Michael Lake is particularly adorable as the awkward and conflicted young Fool, torn between his duty to the usurping Duke and doing what’s right (and his love of a certain young lady).

Among all the scheming, magic and Shakespearean shenanigans, Wyrd Sisters highlights the power of words and reminds us of the importance of taking an active role in one’s destiny.

Fantastic use of mask (for the players’ play within the play) and mask-based puppetry (demon, ghost of the King), which capture the fun, imagination and wonder of this story – with shouts to the design team of Bragg, David Galvin Heppenstall, Jennifer Jakob, Kriger and O’Halloran. Shouts also to make-up artist Liz Davies and Chris Warrilow/Fantastic Creations for the props.

It’s wicked big fun playing with Shakespeare and three good witches that rawk in Socratic Theatre Collective’s production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. So get yourselves out to Red Sandcastle Theatre to see this.

Wyrd Sisters runs until March 29. You can purchase tickets at the door or in advance online. You can also keep up with Socratic Theatre on Facebook and Twitter.

Department of Corrections: The previous version of this post credited the photo to Amanda Irwin/Elemental Photography. The promotional photo included in this post is by Heather Corner; this has been corrected. Amanda Irwin did the production photography.

Toronto Fringe: A joyful, thought-provoking celebration of life in Memento Mori

MEMENTO_MORI_POSTER- FINALFrom the sidewalk outside Rochelle Rubenstein’s Studio (402 College St.), the audience is led along the alley and inside the wooden gates of a colourfully decorated garden, where we are greeted by two handsome, masked men (Christopher Sawchyn and Bruno Cunha); one offers two pieces of paper with questions and a crayon to write our answers, the other serves orange punch. Perched on the fire escape above us, Tracey Erin Smith, our host and guest of honour, sits masked and dressed in black, watching the gathering crowd. We are here to celebrate her last day of life. And she regards us like a fly on the wall at her own funeral.

From the garden, we are led into the studio to find a spot at one of the café tables as the Tango ensemble Payadora (Rebekah Wolkstein, Tom King, Branko Dzinovic & Alberto Munarriz) serenades us.

This is Memento Mori, a solo show written and performed by Smith, directed and co-created by Anita La Selva and produced by SoulOTheatre. The show is the culmination of a journey that started with the question: ‘What if I had one year to live?’ – which turned into a year-long experiment of bucket list activities, work on a troubled marriage and self-discovery.

Memento Mori - shrineWith gorgeous scenic design by Adam Barrett, the space is full of orange flowers (Smith’s favourite colour?), pink and orange strips of cloth, and shrines honouring lost loved ones. Accompanied by the passionate music of Payadora and featuring Tango choreography by Sawchyn, Memento Mori is part memoir, part confession, part hero’s journey – all told with stories of family mythology, personal anecdote, mask performance, music and dance.

I was transported by Smith’s words, and I often found myself feeling like a little kid listening to story time – and Smith was the story lady, rabbi and shaman all wrapped in one. Highly engaging and entertaining, funny and sexy – the threesome, male/male and male/female Tango moments are hot! – our trip is over quickly and we’re all invited to join in the dance (to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”) as the ensemble takes their bows.

And the questions we were given at the beginning of the show?
What is one item on your bucket list?
What would you like to have happen at your funeral?

Memento Mori is a joyful, thought-provoking, singing, dancing, storytelling celebration of life!

The entire Toronto Fringe run of Memento Mori (on till July 13, with no show July 8) is sold out, but if you get to the venue box office early, you just might be able to score a ticket or two at the door.Tes sugar skull on chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toronto Fringe teaser: Tracey Erin Smith & SoulOTheatre present Memento Mori

MEMENTO_MORI_POSTER- FINALYou only have a year left to live. What would you do?

Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre present Smith’s one-woman show Memento Mori – directed by Anita LaSelva, and featuring Tango ensemble Payadora and two male dancers – running during the Toronto Fringe at Rochelle Rubenstein’s Studio (402 College St.) from July 2 – 13 (no show July 8). Tracey Erin Smith - 'Memento Mori' Glamour Sugar Skull

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what Smith and SoulOTheatre had to say about Memento Mori:

Using mask, dance and Toronto’s foremost 4-piece Tango ensemble, Payadora, the audience goes on a voyage through the last night of Tracey’s life. Exploring the universal themes of life, death, and magic mushrooms, Memento Mori (Latin for ‘Remember you are mortal’) is staged as a private party in a backyard and then inside a gallery space on College Street that was once used as a synagogue. On her last night on earth, Tracey invites the audience to passionately explore the idea of fully living, while you’re still alive and to participate as much or as little in this Day of the Dead themed celebration as they desire.

Part garden party, part death ritual – Memento Mori promises to be the best last night of anyone’s life ever!

I’m definitely going to be there. How ’bout you?