Wistful, whimsical, dreamy & mind-bending theatre in InspiraTO Festival blueShow line-up

inspiratofestival-1Part two of my InspiraTO Festival opening night double header at Alumnae Theatre on Thursday night. Here’s what went down during the blueShow line-up:

Intersection by Josh Downing, directed by Yehuda Fisher. Why does a heartsick young man want to cross the dangerously busy road? And why is the crossing guard so reluctant to help him? Actors Tom Beattie (the squirrely, despairing Rich) and Christina Song (the wonderfully deadpan and seemingly unflappable crossing guard Cat) have amazing comedic chemistry in this wacky tale of connection and interaction – nicely done!

Of a Feather by Dale Sheldrake, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson. Marjory and Dean have conversation. Bingo is happening soon. A poetic, fantastical exploration of communication, empathy and connection. This piece uses beautiful, lyrical language – evocatively delivered by actors Camille Marshall and Kevin Chew (who also appears in redShow Meeting Mr. Right – and I wouldn’t have known had I not recognized the name).

Poison Control by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, directed by Rebecca Ballarin. An emergency call to a poison control centre is not what you think. The comedic impact of this show owes a lot to the hilariously earnest performances of Madeline Leon and Derek Masterson.

Last Night at the Paradise by Elektra, directed by Annemieke Wade. A disco fantasy/memory as we watch DJ Larry Levan setting up for one last party at Paradise Garage. There’s a lovely, optimistic melancholy in Ryan Singh’s performance as the intensely committed party maestro DJ Larry; and Sheree Spencer is Donna Summers and all that as the stunning and sparkling Disco.

Save the Date by Caity-Shea Violette, directed by Josh Downing. Remarkably poignant with touches of rom-com to ease the ache as two former lovers meet hours before one of them gets married. Did they make a mistake? Lovely, tender and truthful work from actors Amanda Pereira and Marissa Spada.

Brother, Brother by Meghan Greeley, directed by Dale Sheldrake. Two kids meet after school in the schoolyard. Four bucks for four words. A beautifully rendered two-hander as one kid helps a kid with a speech impediment get the words right for a very important event tomorrow. Really nice work from actors Danny Parkes and Madeleine Brown as the two kids, who have very different personalities, but tightly connected in their united goal for their bittersweet project.

Roaming by Phillip Gerson, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson. Set in New York City, three people sit at separate coffee shop tables, each having a conversation on their cell. Perspective is everything when it comes to attitude and point of view. This cast nails the three very different responses to life in NYC: hopeful optimism of a newcomer (Christina Leonard), the jaded irritation of an out of work actor (Marko Djurdjic) and the wistful nostalgia and romance with a city of a life-long resident in transition (Abbas Pajooman).

TEN: A Short History of InspiraTO, written/directed by Dominik Loncar. A bonus show performed only on opening night and again on June 2 at the end of the blueShow program – a brief, fun look at the history of the InspiraTO Festival. Shouts to the cast for taking us on this tense, funny and inspirational journey: Farah Farah, Irene Theocharis, Tom Beattie, Natalie Bazar and Dominik Loncar.

With shouts again to the InspiraTO creative team: Dominik Loncar (AD & producer), Lumir Hladik (Associate AD, set & motion media designer), Paul Hardy (lighting designer), and music mixes by DJ Angus James (redShow) and DJ Parker Nowlan (blueShow).

InspiraTO’s blueShow line-up is a sampling of wistful, whimsical, dreamy and mind-bending theatre. Some like it sublime – do you?

Here’s the full line-up for the 2015 InspiraTO Theatre Festival – check the website for exact dates/times:
redShow: Seven 10-minute plays in one show performed on the Mainstage
blueShow: Seven 10-minute plays in one show performed on the Mainstage
quickies: Ten stand-alone, 10-minute plays, are performed at the Trinity studio (2nd floor) every half hour
urbanART X: OCAD University Curatorium – curator Victoria Mohr-Blakeney presents three contemporary artists and their work on stage
urbanART Y: OCAD University Curatorium – curator Matthew Kyba presents three contemporary artists and their work on stage
theatreSafari: Audiences are led to four off-site-specific shows and watch a 10-minute play at each venue
theatreCarrousel: Audiences attend four site specific “rotating” shows within the Alumnae building and watch a 10-minute play at each venue
readings: A reading of select plays from InspiraTO’s 10-year history (180 10-minute plays produced to date)
talkBacks: Post-performance Q&A session with the Artistic Director, Associate Artistic Director and graduates of Theatre InspiraTO’s Playwriting Academy

The InspiraTO Festival continues all over the Alumnae Theatre space until June 6; you can purchase festival passes and advance tix online here or get them at the door.

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Intense, passionate, darkly funny and thought-provoking theatre pieces in InspiraTO Festival redShow line-up

inspiratofestival-1Out at Alumnae Theatre last night for the opening night of the 10th annual InspiraTO Festival. The festival of 10-minute plays has grown over the years to include two full line-ups of plays running throughout the fest, as well as a series of one-off performances – including site-specific shows – as well as art exhibits, live music, readings and talkbacks.

I did a double header last night: the redShow and blueShow performances. Here’s the scoop on the redShow line-up:

Meeting Mr. Right by Stephan de Ghelder, directed by Nick May. A charming and playful look at a secret admirer/blind date night out at the theatre. Truly engaging and endearing performances from Scott Labonte and Kevin Chew.

Call Raul by Joseph Borini, directed by Sarah Finn. During a spring cleaning purge, Rozzelli’s wife includes his personal nuclear device in a Salvation Army clothing/house wares donation – hilarity ensues. Great work from the cast (Peter Mazzucco, Tracy Jennissen, Bruce Williamson and Jack Ritchie) in this wacky, darkly funny look at who’s got their finger on the red button – and the mysterious, powerful man to whom people seem to turn for everything.

Leo Rising by Angie Farrow, directed by Dominik Loncar. A jilted bride stands outside the window of her AWOL groom and calls him out. Poignant, humourous and edgy work from Liz Laywine in this intense one-person show.

Broken Windows by Fiona Raye Clarke, directed by Chiamaka G. Ugwu. In a world of extreme policing, a black man and an Arab man get into a fight on a streetcar – and their wives are left to pick up the pieces. Strong, moving work from the cast in this piece that examines cultural and police bigotry, stereotyping and violence – and the fallout for those who are left behind: Marina Moreira, Anthony Morgan, Aisha Bentham and Basel Daoud.

The Ugly by Tabitha Keast, directed by Sarah Finn. A woman’s routine physical check-up with her GP has unexpected results. Lovely, nuanced performances from Alex Bortoluzzi and Lavetta Griffin.

The Twelve-Forty by Barry Brodsky, directed by Chiamaka G. Ugwu. It’s late at night and a white man and a black man strike up a conversation while waiting for the last train of the day – assumptions and misunderstanding ensue. Excellent work from Cameron Grant and Rob Renda in this two-hander that shifts back and forth from dramatic to hilarious.

Border Lines by William S. E. Coleman, directed by Erin O’Hanley. Four roommates sharing a cramped apartment have a disagreement get out of hand – and resort to some unusual mediation tactics. Big, fun crazy times with this cast: Chris Pereira, Austin Leggett, Irene Theocharis and Katie Witkowski.

Shouts to the InspiraTO creative team: Dominik Loncar (AD & producer), Lumir Hladik (Associate AD, set & motion media designer), Paul Hardy (lighting designer), and music mixes by DJ Angus James (redShow) and DJ Parker Nowlan (blueShow).

InspiraTO’s redShow line-up is a collection of intense, passionate, darkly funny and thought-provoking theatre pieces. Some like it hot – do you?

Here’s the full line-up for the 2015 InspiraTO Theatre Festival – check the website for exact dates/times:
redShow: Seven 10-minute plays in one show performed on the Mainstage
blueShow: Seven 10-minute plays in one show performed on the Mainstage
quickies: Ten stand-alone, 10-minute plays, are performed at the Trinity studio (2nd floor) every half hour
urbanART X: OCAD University Curatorium – curator Victoria Mohr-Blakeney presents three contemporary artists and their work on stage
urbanART Y: OCAD University Curatorium – curator Matthew Kyba presents three contemporary artists and their work on stage
theatreSafari: Audiences are led to four off-site-specific shows and watch a 10-minute play at each venue
theatreCarrousel: Audiences attend four site specific “rotating” shows within the Alumnae building and watch a 10-minute play at each venue
readings: A reading of select plays from InspiraTO’s 10-year history (180 10-minute plays produced to date)
talkBacks: Post-performance Q&A session with the Artistic Director, Associate Artistic Director and graduates of Theatre InspiraTO’s Playwriting Academy

The InspiraTO Festival continues all over the Alumnae Theatre space until June 6; you can purchase festival passes and advance tix online here or get them at the door.

Climbing out with humour & rage – Alumnae Theatre’s Rabbit Hole

Rabbit-Hole-website-bannerAlumnae Theatre Company closes its 2013-14 season with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, directed by Paul Hardy.
Set in the Larchmont, New York home of Becca and Howie, who recently lost their four-year-old son Danny in an accident, Rabbit Hole takes the audience down into a place of deep loss as we watch this couple live through it – with humour, intense struggle and bewildered rage.
Hardy has an excellent cast to tell this story. Paula Schultz gives a lovely layered performance as Becca, tightly wound and wounded, a sharp edge to her housewife cheer as she barely stifles her rage. Cameron Johnston does great work with Howie, who struggles to stay positive, proactively gain closure and have their lives return to some sense of normalcy as he walks on eggshells in his own home, missing the family dog who’s been banished to Becca’s mother’s house. Joanne Sarazen, as Becca’s younger sister Izzy, is hilariously goofy and irreverent, edgy and no-bullshit, tempered with empathy and protective impulses; peas in a pod with Sheila Russell’s Nat, Becca and Izzy’s mom – quirky, warm and raucous, and dealing with the less recent loss of an adult son. And really nice work from Christopher Manousos as Jason, the sensitive teenager with a creative soul and a kind nature, who comes into Becca and Howie’s lives in an unexpected and tragic way – torn between his own feelings and taking care with theirs.
And I have to shout out the design team here. Jacqueline Costa’s two-level set puts us perfectly in this prim and tidy upper middle class home, with its sunken living room – complete with reclaimed wood coffee table – and fully loaded kitchen, the top level set up as Danny’s still intact bedroom. Angus Barlow’s sound design, featuring original compositions, transports us to 2002, with its beats and electronic keys, as does Sara Brzozowski’s costume design, tailored bang-on to both time and character. Kudos, too, to the props team of Razie Brownstone and Tess Hendaoui, who – on top of the standard household props – had a food-heavy script, as well as a lot of child’s clothes and stuffed animals to come up with.
Alumnae Theatre’s Rabbit Hole is funny, moving and profoundly human.
Rabbit Hole continues its run on the mainstage until April 26, with performances tonight and tomorrow afternoon. Go see this.

Magic & mayhem in a small town – Alumnae Theatre’s The Killdeer

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A rural kitchen with lavender walls, wallpapered below the chair railing on one side and paneled with different cuts of wood on the other. An open doorway reveals a pantry, shelves full of mason jars of colourful preserves. Up centre, a tree sprouts, covered in all manner of porcelain knick-knacks – a tea pot, glass animals – instead of leaves. Through the window, a portion of it cut away, vines enter from the outside world, and we get the stage right view of white birches, giant bull rushes and the beginning of a glittering green swamp.

Marysia Bucholc’s set is the audience’s introduction to the world of the Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of James Reaney’s The Killdeer, directed by Barbara Larose, with assistant director Ellen Green, part of Alumnae’s “Countdown to 100” retrospective programming as it approaches its 100th anniversary (it’s 95 now). Reaney’s play, which came about due to the encouragement of late director and Alumnae member Pamela Terry, had its premiere at Alumnae in 1960 (back when it was located on Bedford Road) and was directed by Terry – and it launched Reaney’s career as a playwright.

In this seemingly quaint country town – part rural gothic, part fairy tale place – with a mysterious and violent history, this kitchen in the Gardner home is a whimsical oasis of innocence. Through prose that is at times vernacular, at others poetic, storytelling and gossip, The Killdeer takes us on an intense, dramatic – and at times magical – journey into the lives and secrets of its characters.

Like me, you may be asking, what the heck is a “killdeer”? The press release for the production provides a helpful definition: a killdeer is “a small bird, known for feigning a broken wing to draw predators away from its nest, which is built on open ground, and for calling out its own name.” Sound designer Rick Jones incorporates the call of the killdeer into the production, along with musical touches of whimsy, mystery and drama, inspired by the original production’s sound design by John Beckwith.

The Killdeer features a very strong cast. Tricia Brioux’s Madam Fay is a deliciously arch, darkly comic and dangerously crazy lady with issues, while Tricia’s real-life nephew Matt Brioux (playing Madam Fay’s son) rounds out Eli’s seemingly simple-minded, childlike behaviour with good sense and a good heart. Rob Candy does evil up good as Clifford, a notorious piece of work whose menacing character rivals even that of Madam Fay. As Mrs. Gardner, Anne Shepherd combines a sense of rural tradition and individual quirkiness as Harry’s bric-a-brack collecting, overprotective mother, while Marie Carrière Gleason is great fun as Mrs. Gardner’s gossipy neighbour Mrs. Budge. Paul Hardy offers a nice transition as Harry goes from wide-eyed innocent teenager to a good man searching to find his way and save the true love of his life; and Blythe Haynes is lovely as Rebecca, a lost innocent like Harry, protective of those she loves even to her own detriment. Naomi Vondell adds some nice layers of mystery to the put upon Jailer’s wife Mrs. Soper, left to manage the cells while her husband is away. In their multiple roles, Michael Vitorovich is delightfully evil as the Hangman and comically officious as the Judge; Joanne Sarazen is especially entertaining as the mercurial Crown attorney and Tina McCulloch – doing quadruple duty playing two characters, as well as marketing/publicity and co-producer – gives a nice comic turn as courthouse cleaning lady Mrs. Delta. Peter Higginson’s enigmatic physician turned hermit Dr. Ballad is both gently wise and sharply funny.

Razie Brownstone’s costumes, and prop team’s Tess Hendaoui and Deborah Roed detailed touches, make for a lovely combination of realism and once upon a time. And Ed Rosing’s lighting design ranges from the clever (the box-like light on the floor for the witness stand in the courtroom) and magical (the lighting on the swamp and the twinkley lights on the walls of the set that burst out into the back of the house). All held together by intrepid SM/lighting op Margot “Mom” Devlin and her ASM team. Shouts also to co-producer Lynne Patterson and opening night catering mistress Sandy Schneider – and to Suzanne Courtney at Ticking Time Bomb Productions for the graphic design work on the poster (and for the entire season).

This was one crazy trip. And The Killdeer leaves the audience talking.

The Killdeer runs on the Alumnae Theatre main stage until April 27, with a talkback following the April 21 matinée. In the meantime, check out this Hye’s Musings blog interview with director Barbara Larose.

A Woman of No Importance time travels to 1985 @ Alumnae Theatre

1213-womanmainThe tagline reads: “It’s not your great-aunt’s Oscar Wilde!” Make no mistake, Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, directed by Paul Hardy, is most definitely not a traditional staging of the play.

Brandon Kleiman’s minimalist and stunning set design (he does double duty as costume designer) provides the audience with a first peek at the world of Lady Hunstanton’s (Andy Fraser) country manor Hunstanton Chase. Upstage hang three window frames, each fractured at the bottom, with hundreds of brown paper butterflies hanging behind them. Downstage centre, two women in period costume stand side by side: one apparently an American, rather Puritan in dress and doing some needle work, and the other an Englishwoman with a closed-up parasol reading a book. Both politely acknowledge the other’s presence on occasion, but it is a tolerant rather than friendly sharing of the space. From either side of the stage enter a maid (Kathleen Pollard) and a butler (Daniel Staseff). Both disapproving of what they see, the two of them hatch a plan to usher the two ladies off stage. The quiet classical music that has been playing in the background morphs to 1980s club volume and intensity (sound design, nicely done, by Angus Barlow). Enter Lady Caroline Pontefract (Gillian English), all green and sparkly and bold make-up, looking very much like Edina from Ab Fab, joined by her husband Sir John Pontefract (Michael Vitorovich). Toto, we’re not in the 1890s anymore.

Hardy’s production transplants Wilde’s take on excess, morality and social repression into 1985. Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of England – and, this being England, the class divide is alive and well. And young Gerald Arbuthnot’s (Nicholas Porteous) promotion to secretary to Lord Illingworth (Andrew Batten) becomes a surprising – and unwelcome – family reunion with Gerald’s mother (Áine Magennis), whose life was ruined as a result of Illingworth’s callous betrayal.

Rounding out the cast are Sophia Fabiilli (young American guest Hester Worsley), James Graham (Mr. Kelvil, M.P.), Paula Shultz (Mrs. Allonby), Amy Zuch (Lady Stutfield) and Jason Thompson (Archdeacon Daubeny). City folk not particularly at ease in the country, Lady Hunstanton’s guests amuse themselves with gossip and witty, at times mercurial, conversation, and scandal – and the temptation to scandal – is ever present.

Fraser does a lovely job as Lady Hunstanton, the delightfully warm, if not somewhat forgetful, hostess. And Batten is devishly charming as the amoral, entitled Illingworth. Paula Shultz’s Mrs. Allonby is both sharp and cat-like sexy, and the scenes between her and Illingworth – a dual of words drenched in sex – are marvelous to watch. Magennis gives Mrs. Arbuthnot a strong, quiet dignity – a woman who owns her mistake and determined to carry on as best as she can, a social undesirable living undercover so her son doesn’t have to suffer for her sin.

Whether that perception of “sin” translates well into the 1980s, I’ll leave up to you. There is certainly a continuing class and gender divide regarding what constitutes forgivable and unforgivable behaviour. And the play provides an interesting perspective on American vs. British regard for morals and society. It is interesting that it is young Miss Worsley, “the Puritan,” who ends up being the most flexible and forgiving. And, in the end, Gerald, his mother and Miss Worsley embrace that which is truly important – and love has its day.

A Woman of No Importance runs at Alumnae Theatre on the main stage until February 9, with a talkback after the matinée on Sunday, February 3. Contact Alumnae Theatre for reservations.