The meaning of life, death & the role of a lifetime in the moving, tender & funny Or Not To Be

Andrew Robinson, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho & Karen Scobie in Or Not To Be—photo by Vic Finucci

 

I was back at Red Sandcastle Theatre last night, this time for Glass Hammer Productions’ presentation of Andrew Batten’s Or Not To Be, directed by Julia Haist. I saw the premiere at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival last year and was excited to see the evolution of the piece.

Actor Ben (Shawn DeSouza-Coelho) and director Sebastian (Andrew Robinson), also best friends, are working on putting together a production of Hamlet, with Ben playing the tragic hero. It’s the production of a lifetime—and the role of a lifetime for Ben—in more ways than one. Ben is living with a rare cancer, and his life now revolves around post-op treatments, medical appointments and an uncertain future. Rounding out his support team are his family and partner Sarah (Karen Scobie)—all touched in his or her own way by Ben’s illness.

Beneath the brave face Ben puts on for the world is a deep-seated internal conflict about the project and his treatment. As he struggles with side effects, low energy, frustration, and the fear of forgetting his lines and sucking at the role, he begins to wonder who he’s doing all of this for—and he’s faced with some hard choices, the impact of which will ripple out to those he loves.

Really lovely work and great chemistry from this three-hander cast in this intimate and candid production. DeSouza-Coelho’s Ben is a compelling picture of stoicism and determination, his thousand-mile stare and stillness belying the troubled soul beneath the surface; and he gives us nicely drawn Hamlet in a selection of classic soliloquies. Robinson brings the perfect balance of cockiness and warmth to Sebastian; Ben’s best friend since grade school, his theatrical ambitions are put into perspective by his support and care of Ben. Scobie gives Sarah a poignant sense of vulnerability and conflict as Ben’s lovingly supportive and uncomplaining partner; torn between wanting what’s best for Ben and not wanting to let him go, Sarah must confront her own feelings and motives. These relationship dynamics have all the truth, humour and feeling of people who know each other well—and in Ben and Sebastian’s case, a long time. And while the truth may be hard to take, it’s served up with love and honesty.

In the end, it makes you think. How would you react in Ben’s situation? What would your life be? And, as your life is right now, what’s your Hamlet? We are reminded that time is a precious, non-renewable resource—and despite the best intentions of those we love, it is we who must ultimately decide what path our lives will take.

With shouts to Liz Currie, the intrepid stage manager, lighting designer and tech in the booth; and to Wellspring, an organization—noted in the program—that provides programs and services for people living with cancer and their caregivers.

The meaning of life, death and the role of a lifetime in the moving, tender and funny Or Not To Be.

Or Not To Be continues at Red Sandcastle until January 28, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, with 2 pm matinees on Jan 20, 21, 27 and 28. Tickets available by calling the box office at 416 845-9411, or online at this link for first seven shows and this link for the final seven shows.

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New Ideas Festival: Heart beats, blue feels & the big sleep in trippy, darkly funny Week Three program

Alumnae Theatre Company continues its 2017 edition of the New Ideas Festival (NIF) with a trippy, darkly funny Week Three program, the final week of the fest. The annual festival includes three weeks of short new plays and full-length readings, including four plays and one reading each week, running in the Studio space.

Beat by Dale Sheldrake, directed by Josh Downing. Alone and injured following a near fatal car crash, Evelyn 1 (Jackie Mahoney) is beside herself, as she listens to her heart/inner voice (Evelyn 2: Laurel Schell). Taking stock of her life as she waits for help to arrive, she’s forced to face her inner demons and addictions. Darkly funny, sharp and theatrical; with some lovely spoken word dialogue and strong performances from Mahoney and Schell.

The Ballad of Sadie Wong by Andrew Lee, directed by Cassidy Sadler. Film noir detective story meets modern-day romance when day-dreamy, chipper bookstore clerk Althea (Remi Long) meets volatile, melancholy barista/punk rocker Sadie (Liz Der). Their sharp-witted, fun dynamic goes dark when Althea becomes concerned about how far Sadie will go to reach the top of the marquee. With the help of fictional Detective Ellesmere (Peter McArthur), Althea tries to solve Sadie’s mystery—but is Sadie beyond hope? Nice work from the cast; Long and Der have great chemistry, especially with the punchy dime store detective novel banter.

Who Knocks? by Connie Guccione, directed by David Suszek.  An obituary for a high school classmate gets Rose (Sandra Burley) and Mary (Ruth Miller) thinking about death in this darkly funny look at aging and mortality. Great odd couple chemistry between Miller’s cynical, wise-cracking Mary and Burley’s gentler, good-humoured Rose.

The Hungriest Woman in the World by Shannon Bramer, directed by Claren Grosz. Struggling with ennui and identity, and longing for a way out—it’s through the looking glass for Aimee (Jeanine Thrasher). When her workaholic husband Rob (Armand Antony) refuses to join her for a night at the theatre, she goes off on her own. At the show, she befriends her seatmates, highly extroverted actors Nathan (Jamie Rose) and Julie (Jacqueline Verellen), and stays out all night. Bizarre shenanigans and darkly hilarious times ensue. Shout to the cast; great use of movement and farce-like comedy.

The Week Three program also includes a reading on Mar 25 at noon: Thistlepatch by Catherine Frid, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson.

Heart beats, blue feels and the big sleep in trippy, darkly funny Week Three program.

The NIF Week Three program continues until Mar 26 and closes the festival for this year; evening performances at 8p.m. and matinées at 2:30p.m., including talkbacks after the readings and the Saturday matinées. It’s an intimate space and a popular fest, so advance booking online or early arrival (box office opens one hour before show time—cash only) are strongly recommended.

 

 

New Ideas Festival: Attraction, secrets & brave new worlds in eclectic, insightful Week Two program

Alumnae Theatre Company continues its 2017 edition of the New Ideas Festival (NIF) with an eclectic Week Two program. The annual festival includes three weeks of short new plays and full-length readings, including four plays and one reading each week, running in the Studio space.

The Red Lacquered Box by Burke Campbell, directed by Lynn Weintraub. In this one-woman period drama, secretary Madame Gilles (Aleksandra Maslennikova) relates what she knows about the events leading up to the scandalous tragedy involving her employer Madame Tullée. Maslennikova’s Mme Gilles is a fastidious, bright-eyed charmer; a fine performance as she shifts between characters, including the dramatic, effervescent Mme Tullée and her suave, sophisticated lover Derek. What is the significance of that red lacquered box?

Parallax by Michelle Glennie, directed by Ara Glenn-Johanson. Brave new worlds collide in this hilarious, sharp tale of two pairs of friends/colleagues boldly going. Physicist/surgeon Marie Soleil (Melanie Leon) and Expos baseball star Rock (Duncan Rowe) have been selected to train as astronauts for a one-way trip to Mars; part of their mission will be to help populate the new Earth colony. Meanwhile, back in the 1660s, Louise (Wendy Fox) and Laura (Taylor Shouldice) are Filles du Roi, setting off aboard a ship to New France, to help populate the new French colony. What happens when these two pairs meet during an event in the space/time continuum has surprising results.

Y by Rosemary Doyle, directed by Sandra Cardinal. When Lyona (Sandi Globerman) invites Fyona (Alison Parovel), the daughter of close family friends who moved to England, for a visit, her sons George (Aury Barnett) and Henry (Taylor Bogaert) wonder what’s up. Family secrets emerge in a series of flashbacks, including Lyona’s husband Arthur (Barnett), and family friends Thomas (Bogaert) and Helen (Parovel). Actions reveal priorities in this intimate, at times funny, portrait of family and friendship dynamics.

Professionally Ethnic by Bobby Del Rio, directed by Rouvan Silogix. A sharply funny and insightful look at perceptions of diversity and inclusion in Canadian theatre. Young South Asian Canadian actor William (Ronak Singh) finds himself torn between landing a starring role with renowned white artistic director Gerrard (Rob Candy) and his conscience when the job requires that he become a stereotypical multicultural poster boy for the theatre company’s massive rebranding campaign. With a little help from his friends—best friend Kyle (Simon Bennett), who is white, and girlfriend Tracey (Chantel McDonald), a black equity PhD student—he’s reminded of who he really is. LOL problem-solving shenanigans ensue. Really nice work all around from the cast; especially funny is the nightmare presentation scene, where Gerrard and Tracey present their perceptions and findings of William’s situation.

The Week Two program also includes a reading on Mar 18 at noon: Who You Callin Black, Eh? by Rita Shelton Deverell, directed by Donald Molnar.

Attraction, secrets and brave new worlds in the New Ideas eclectic, insightful Week Two program.

The NIF Week Two program continues until Mar 19 and the festival continues to Mar 26; evening performances at 8p.m. and matinées at 2:30p.m., including talkbacks after the readings and the Saturday matinées. It’s an intimate space and a popular fest, so advance booking online or early arrival (box office opens one hour before show time—cash only) are strongly recommended.

 

 

New Ideas Festival: Connection, reflection & living with illness in thoughtful, funny Week One program

Alumnae Theatre Company opened the 29th New Ideas Festival (NIF) with a strong Week One program in its Studio space last night. The annual juried festival includes three weeks of short new plays and full-length readings, including four plays and one reading each week.

Call by Rosemary Doyle, directed by Rebecca Ostroff. A hilarious look at the never-ending hum of talking without communicating, set in a busy office environment where chatterbox Millennial receptionist Sandra (Jennifer-Beth Hanchar) is constantly in conversation with a friend in between fielding business calls. Frazzled HR Manager Laura (Shalyn McFaul) is unplugged on a meditation retreat, struggling to maintain silence and stay off electronic devices. Meanwhile, her skeezy colleague Mark (Andrew Batten, who also wrote a play, included in this week’s program) is covering for her at work, wreaking havoc in her absence with a laissez faire attitude and inappropriate remarks, including a hysterical comedy of errors over some texted photos. In a digital world, with so many devices to connect us, how connected are we really?

Or Not to Be by Andrew Batten, directed by Julia Haist. A heartfelt and genuine, at times funny, look at the Big Question. Thirty-two-year-old actor Ben (Arun Varma) contemplates his life in the big picture as he prepares to play Hamlet in a production directed by his best friend Sebastian (Jason Pilgrim). Putting on a brave face for the world, you’d never know he had a physical and emotional battle raging inside him; and he keeps much of this even from his loving and supportive wife Sarah (Jada Rifkin). Ben finds he must make some choices, no matter how much it hurts the ones he loves. Lovely work from the cast in this thoughtful examination of the meaning of life and death.

Teach Her My Name by Michael Kras, directed by Paige Foskett. A touching portrait of young couple Beth (Kate Schroder) and Andrew (Steven Pereira), new parents whose lives are changed forever when Beth, who lives with mental illness, assaults a woman at a bar. Now only able to see her baby during weekly visits, Beth is desperate to there for her daughter and worried she’s losing her husband. Andrew is doing his best, but is at his wit’s end working long hours and trying to be a father on his own, with the help of their parents. It’s not what they had in mind when they learned they were going to be parents; and Andrew can’t make Beth stay on her meds. How much can love take? A beautiful and intimate piece, with quiet moments full of repressed longing and disappointment.

D Cup by Alicia Payne, directed by Eilish Waller. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the women we meet at the mall lingerie store. When Peaches (Barbara Salsberg) leaves her elderly mother Mama (Margaret Sellers) with store clerk Lacey (Claudia Yang) to try on bras at the store while she goes to the washroom, Lacey realizes Peaches has been gone a long time. The highly discerning Candi (Kim Sprenger), a store regular, arrives and is put out that her favourite clerk called in sick. She is soon delighted by Mama, who has a knack for selecting the perfect bras for Candi. Friendships and revelations, and the deep connection between mothers and daughters, emerge in this charming dramedy.

Connection, reflection and living with illness in the thoughtful, funny New Ideas Week One program.

The Week One program also includes a reading on Saturday, March 11 at noon: Riverkeeper by Katherine Koller, directed by Rebecca Grace.

The NIF Week One program continues until March 12 and the festival continues to March 26; evening performances are at 8 p.m. and matinées are at 2:30 p.m., including talkbacks after the readings (noon on Saturdays) and the Saturday matinées. It’s an intimate space and a popular fest, so advance booking strongly recommended: get your advance tix online or arrive early at the box office (opens an hour before show time; cash only).

 

 

In memoriam: Ed Rosing

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Ed Rosing – during a break in scenic painting on The Lady’s Not For Burning at Alumnae Theatre

Ed Rosing

March 11, 1929 – September 12, 2016

Ed Rosing (aka Eddie, Eduardo) was a creative soul with a quick, sharp wit, and a great love of classical music, opera and theatre. He played piano, was an original founding member of Cabbagetown Theatre, and worked as a respected interior decorator (into his late 80s, he still had two clients!), as well as a theatre set and lighting designer, scenic artist and director.

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Ed and Cody Boyd, working on the lighting for The Lady’s Not For Burning at Alumnae Theatre

I met Ed at Alumnae Theatre and got to know him during a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, where he was the lighting designer and I was playing Cecil Graham. His gorgeous lighting plot included a gradual sunset during the opening scenes and a lovely fireplace lit room for Lord Darlington’s apartment (a cast and audience favourite). After that, I had the pleasure of painting sets he and others designed, as well as his apartment at PAL Toronto, and being directed by him in a New Ideas Festival reading of Jamie Johnson’s Falling.

He was a good friend, and a generous and knowledgeable mentor – and I will miss him.

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Ed & Bailey at Kensington Hospice – photo by Brett Guenther

Memorial donations can be made to Kensington Hospice, where Ed spent his final days, surrounded by loving friends and family (and even a dog or two), and caring staff and volunteers. A home away from home, Ed appreciated the comfortable and beautiful surroundings – and especially enjoyed the food – listening to classical music and watching movies and TV shows on Netflix (Murdoch Mysteries was a favourite).

Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s already coming up with ideas to make it even more startlingly beautiful.

Below are some snaps I took of some of his Alumnae Theatre sets: Cosi, The Drowning Girls, The Lady’s Not For Burning and Blood Relations:

 

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Interview with Andrea Scott on upcoming Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife @ SummerWorks

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Andrea Scott is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and producer at Call Me Scotty Productions. Her plays have appeared in the New Ideas Festival and SummerWorks (Eating Pomegranates Naked and Better Angels: A Parable – the latter is also featured on Expect Theatre’s PlayMe podcast), in a Mixed Company Theatre touring production (Frenemies) and, most recently, at Solar Stage (Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees). Next up for Scott is a SummerWorks production of Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, which “explores feminism, slut shaming and the power dynamic that exists between the genders as viewed from Mata Hari’s prison cell in 1917.”* Andrew Lamb is directing, and the cast includes David Christo, Lisa Karen Cox, Kimwun Perehinec and Paula Wing.

LWMC: Hi, Andrea. Thanks for taking the time to talk about Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife – and thanks for giving me the opportunity to read it first. Things have been cooking for you lately, with Expect Theatre for the PlayMe broadcast of Better Angels and a recent production of Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees at Solar Stage. Quick side question: What’s your experience been shifting between writing for adult audiences to younger audiences?

AS: Less swearing. Or maybe more, now that I think about it. When I write for children, I have to be very conscious not to give the children my ‘adult’ voice. I have a habit of using big words or a vocabulary that is rather expansive. Children are so smart and observant, and when they say something insightful, it takes adults by surprise. That is a challenge to write because you don’t want people to hear it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a clever adult putting their words into the mouth a child.’ I remember feeling that way after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

LWMC: Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife features Mata Hari as the central figure. How did you become drawn to her story?

AS: I was asked to be in a reading of Harriet’s Daughter by M. NourbeSe Philips in the 2013 AfterRock Festival produced by b current. The character I played was obsessed with Mata Hari, so in order to understand my character better, I researched who she was in history. I thought I knew who she was and was surprised to learn that there was little to no hard evidence that led to her execution. What was clear was that she was very open about her sexual appetite, enjoyed showing her body, and entirely unapologetic. A woman like that could only be trouble in 1917.

LWMC: The action shifts back and forth between Mata Hari’s cell, in the hours before her execution in 1917, and a present-day university women’s studies course that includes a lecture and discussion about Mata Hari. What made you decide to structure the play in this way?

AS: I was very excited about this woman’s story and when I would tell people about Mata Hari, I came to realize that most didn’t know who she was at all. The professor conceit came out of the desire to inform and educate the audience. Early drafts had him directing the lecture at the audience, but Marjorie Chan, AD at Cahoots Theatre, felt it would be more dynamic to have another character with which the professor could interact. Nobody knows what Mata Hari’s last hours were like, so this is an imagining. What is known is that she had two cellmates and was never informed of an execution date. Right up until the guard showed up at her cell, she believed she would be released. She seemed unaware that an espionage charge was a guaranteed death sentence when over 50,000 French soldiers had been slaughtered at the Battle of Verdun.

LWMC: The play draws some sharp social and feminist parallels, and the discussions of gender, sexuality and colour – and even ownership – between Mata Hari and her cellmate are mirrored to some extent in the debates between the professor and his female student in the present day. What do you hope the audience will take away from these perspectives?

AS: That, unfortunately, slut shaming between women is just as bad as when men do it and it has always existed. That even in prison there exists a hierarchy entrenched because of racism and privilege. Mata Hari, who was a Dutch citizen, looks at her cellmate Helene and asks her where she is from even though Helene is clearly French. There were many black people in France, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of evidence of this fact in French plays or literature. Alexandre Dumas’ work was being read in French prisons and he was a black man. Race and gender politics have always been around but now we have a more open society where one can discuss it without reprisal (hopefully).

LWMC: And was there anything that surprised you as you were doing the research for the play?

How little things have changed regarding military protocol if you are identified as a threat to national security. Mata Hari was taken into custody, interrogated repeatedly, denied access to her lawyer on many occasions, had her correspondence intercepted, and essentially convicted for being a sexual woman. Several years after her execution a prosecutor on the case admitted that they did not have enough evidence to kill a cat.

I also touch on the precarious employment issue plaguing university professors. I was completely unaware of how little they make, their poor treatment, and the assumption that once you’re a professor you’ve got it made. It was a bad situation 10 years ago and now it’s even worse as universities move towards operating on a business model treating education as a commodity.

LWMC: You’re currently crowdfunding for the production on Indiegogo. Tell us about that. And what other ways can folks support Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife?

AS: I recognize the impetus to simply split the box office after a SummerWorks show and make a little bit of money beforehand in order to pay for supplies, but I really want to pay my team for their skills. I did a Fringe show many years ago, and after 5 weeks of rehearsals and 7 shows, I was paid something like $20 and I was like, ‘Nah, Man!’ My base amount is $500 per person, so usually I need about $5,000 in the business account by July so that I can pay for rehearsal space, marketing, insurance and contingency items. By the time the show has had a run and the box office is reconciled, I’ve usually made enough to give everyone that $500 in September. This year, I’m being way more ambitious by applying for grants because rather than $500 (which breaks down to $100/week/member), I’d like to pay them $600 a week, which approximates the Indie 2.1 contract. We’ll see. It may be nuts and everyone will simply get $500, but I had to try.

If people don’t have the funds, I’d just like them to re-post the link or talk about the play. Nothing can replace good word of mouth.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

AS: The tiny play I wrote for Wrecking Ball #18 last July has been expanded into a full length piece called All Most Be Longing, and there will be an excerpt read at Factory Theatre Wired in June.

LWMC: Cool! I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? Specious

What’s your least favourite word? Scumbag

What turns you on? Intelligence with a sense of wit

What turns you off? Self-centred behaviour with lack of awareness of other’s feelings

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of birds in the morning

What sound or noise do you hate? CNN on all the time.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuckery said with an English accent

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Professor

What profession would you not like to do? Labour lawyer on the side of the companies

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? You did alright. Here’s a dirty martini with extra olives.

Thanks, Andrea!

Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife will run during SummerWorks 2016 (Aug 4 – 14). Take a look at the YouTube fundraising video:

 

 

* Call Me Scotty Productions website

Community, conflict & discovery in New Ideas funny & poignant Week 3 program

NIF 2016It’s the final week of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (NIF),  and the Week 3 program features an extra bonus show: a lobby play. So get to the theatre early (around 7:30 p.m. to get a good spot in the lobby near the staircase to the mainstage) for this extra NIF treat.

The Nurse (lobby playby Francine Dick, directed by Mandy Roveda and featuring actor Margaret Rose Keery). A delightful short solo piece, and very meta as actor Keery plays an actor reluctantly preparing for a callback for Romeo and Juliet. She starts out being certain she’s not right for the part, but as she enlists assistance from the audience to read with her while she prepares – against her will – she learns something about the part and possibly about herself. Strong, engaging work from Keery.

Provenance (by Linda McCready, directed by Pam Redfern). Disillusioned chef Alicia (Fleur Jacobs) has high hopes when she makes a trip to Webster’s Falls with art professor Martin (Eric Edquist), who she hopes will authenticate a painting she plans to sell in order to fund her own Italian restaurant. Jacobs brings a lovely sense of sass and adventurousness as Alicia; and Edquist’s is adorkable as the awkward, precise and decidedly not outdoorsy professor. A sweet two-hander with some interesting and surprising discoveries.

Trying (by Norma Crawford, directed by Juliet Paperny). The double meaning of the title of this very funny and touching play becomes evident very quickly as three at-risk young adults wait for their yoga teacher (part of a mandated social services program). Great work all around from the cast: Michelle T. Baynton as the energetic, medicated handful Tracey; Adam Malcolm as the new guy Brent, conflicted and itching to get to the casino; Evan Walsh as the sweet, introverted misfit Jimmy; Susannah Mackay as the troubled, mysterious surprise guest Lily; and Annie McKay as their put-upon, prim teacher Beth. All are struggling to find their way – even the teacher.

Sick Kids Wanna Talk to You (by Carolyn Bennett, directed by Jennifer McKinley). A Sick Kids hospital street canvasser goes head to head with an irate passerby. Great combination of hilarity and devastating honesty, with a stand-out cast: Wendy Fox has excellent comic delivery and spunk as canvasser Makayla; and Lydia Kiselyk goes well beyond the straight man wither her performance of Joan, a woman of hawk-like intensity and focus, with more brewing beneath her tightly wound surface. As their initial adversarial dynamic shifts and changes, both come to important realizations.

Four Hours (by Joan Burrows, directed by Helen Munroe). An abduction? A carjacking? When a neighbour’s young child goes missing, local residents pull together and apart. Hoping for the best for the missing boy, residents can’t help but fear this is just one more example of how crime and safety have become critical issues in their area. The play pulls from the headlines (a very recent one, coincidentally) of amber alerts and discrimination, particularly against Muslim immigrants, as secrets and fears emerge among neighbourhood residents. Lovely work from this ensemble cast: Samantha Adams, Armand Antony, Nikki Chohan, Julia Haist, Mitchell Janiak, Tina McCulloch, Zachary McKendrick, Chris Peterson and Rebecca Wolfe. Stand-outs include Janiak, as young new resident Shu, the narrator of the story; and Chohan as Farah, the neighbourhood newcomer who’s forced to defend her own son against residents’ suspicions. Conflict, confessions and closure in this moving, insightful play.

Community, conflict and discovery in New Ideas funny and poignant Week 3 program.

The Week Three program continues to March 27, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 26 is the noon reading:  Omission (by Alice Abracen,  directed by Michela Sisti).

For ticket info, visit the website. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the box office at 416-364-4170 (press 1) or in-person one hour before show time (cash only). Advance booking strongly recommended; this is a popular festival and the Studio is an intimate space.

Check out the Week 3 trailer: