The impact of image on memory, identity & social change in the remarkable, moving, visually epic Reflector

Abraham Asto, Louisa Zhu, Michelle Polak & Michael Spence. Lighting & projection design by Laird MacDonald. Set design by Michael Spence & Laird MacDonald. Costume design by Melanie McNeill. Photo by Michael Cooper

 

Theatre Gargantua celebrates its 25th birthday with the world premiere of Reflector, conceived and directed by Jacquie PA Thomas, and written by Michael Spence—opening last night in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace.

Starring Abraham Asto, Michael Spence, Michelle Polak and Louisa Zhu, Reflector is a multimedia, multidisciplinary journey of sight, sound, memory and emotion as the storytelling explores the impact of image, tricks of the light and the perceptions of the mind’s eye. Combining physical theatre, poetry/spoken word, scenes and monologues with evocative soundscapes and a kaleidoscope of images, Reflector features projection and lighting design by Laird Macdonald, a set designed by Macdonald and Spence, sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne and costume design by Melanie McNeill.

We follow the interviews and experiences of three patients of psychologist/neuroscientist Dr. Haddad (Asto): photojournalist Declan (Spence), who took a Pulitzer prize-winning photo of a little girl who was killed among the charred ruins of her war-torn neighbourhood, and who now can’t identify everyday objects; Roula (Polak), a woman with hyperthymesia, who remembers every minute detail of everything she’s ever seen; and Kelly (Zhu), an Internet phenomenon who’s been living her life almost exclusively online, until one day she stopped doing so. All are poets; and this is reflected in the lyric language of monologues, rapid fire rap and spoken word, and the way these characters see the world, including themselves. Secret thoughts and inner conflicts emerge—even for Dr. Haddad, whose love of science is equalled only by his love of a childhood fascination with an art that at first betrayed him.

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Michelle Polak & Michael Spence (foreground); Louisa Zhu & Abraham Asto (background). Lighting & projection design by Laird MacDonald. Set design by Michael Spence & Laird MacDonald. Costume design by Melanie McNeill. Photo by Michael Cooper

The pacing and tone shifts back and forth, playing out opposites in a rich audio/visual tapestry of conflicting thoughts and emotions: calm and storm, light and shadow, break-neck speed and Sunday drive, fluid and erratic, soothing and jarring, cerebral and visceral. Movement matches sight and sound in evocative, innovative—and at times disturbing—ways.

Outstanding performances from the entire ensemble here, as the performers play out this story in a physical, vocal and emotional marathon. Asto brings a nice balance of warm, thoughtful professional and curious, child-like fascination to scientist Dr. Haddad— who gets an equally warm, child-like send-up from the other characters in a hilarious scene of self-reflection. Spence gives the tortured, frustrated Declan a fierce internal boil beneath the fragile, vulnerable surface. Polak’s Roula has a puck-like, wise-cracking frankness that belies inner turmoil and terrified grasping for identity. And Zhu’s got mad rapping skills, her mouth shooting words like a semi-automatic; then shows great debating chops as Kelly makes her argument for her virtual life—a life interrupted, but by what?

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Abraham Asto & Michael Spence. Lighting & projection design by Laird MacDonald. Set design by Michael Spence & Laird MacDonald. Costume design by Melanie McNeill. Photo by Michael Cooper

The impact of image on memory, identity and social change in the remarkable, moving, visually epic Reflector.

Reflector continues at TPM until November 18; get your advance tickets online .

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Toronto Fringe: Post-apocalyptic mayhem and LOLs for days in hilarious, action-packed Wasteland

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Sex T-Rex is back at Toronto Fringe again with their own special brand of physical, film-inspired scripted comedy – this time, with Wasteland, directed by Alec Toller, running at the Randolph Theatre.

The world has been turned into a desert, complete with radioactive zones, a rebar forest and a mutant-infested mall. One glimmer of hope exists, though: The King (Josef Addleman) broadcasting rock ‘n roll from a radio station in Graceland – not a myth, but a life-saving mutant repellant. Over at the Compound, where Marshall (Seann Murray) is the Boss’s right-hand man, an unassuming janitor named Ernest (Conor Bradbury) is forced to make a choice. And he chooses Graceland. With his loyal, feisty sidekick Boy (Kaitlin Morrow) at his side, Ernest travels through dangerous territory and guts for days, pursued by Marshall and his gang. Their journey includes a stopover at the mutant-infested mall, where Professor Mulworth (Julian Frid) and his secret lab may be their last hope. In order to prevail, Ernest must become the hero even he never expected.

Drawing on movie lore from the likes of Mad Max and Tank Girl, the cast does a kick-ass job with the storytelling, which includes awesome fight scenes, car chases, inventive props, awesome puppetry and a rawkin’ soundtrack. Dark comedy abounds, with some surprising poignant moments and plot twists that will keep you laughing and on the edge of your seat. Plus, the show’s program includes a free, hand-drawn map of the Wasteland world.

Post-apocalyptic mayhem and LOLs for days in hilarious, action-packed Wasteland.

Wasteland continues at the Randolph Theatre, with two more performances tonight (Fri, July 8) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, July 9 at 12:00 p.m. For ticket info and advance tickets, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: Take a trip into the Underworld with the beautifully theatrical, sensuous & thought-provoking Persephone

persephone 2A well-known myth gets a new, feminist-inspired perspective at this year’s Toronto Fringe in Pencil Kit Productions’ lush, multi-disciplinary staging of Persephone. Directed by Claren Grosz and created collectively by the company, the show is currently running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

In this version of Persephone’s journey to the Underworld, we are shown several sides of the story – and everyone seems to have a different version. Love-struck Hades (Christopher Sawchyn) makes a request to Zeus (Felix Beauchamp) to arrange a marriage with his daughter Persephone (Sydney Herauf), but clearly no one checked in with her mother Demeter (Jacklyn Francis). Beside herself with worry as she searches for her beloved daughter, Demeter casts the world into winter in protest in an attempt to force Zeus’s hand and get Persephone back. In the end, though, it is Persephone who decides and enacts the terms of her release.

Using movement and dance that is both playful and erotic, as well as music and song – and with a delightful comedic introduction to the tale – the ensemble does a remarkable job with the storytelling. Herauf gives us a fulsome, well-rounded performance as Persephone; going from precocious, curious child to a strong-willed teen who questions authority, to a young woman discovering her own desires and choices as she navigates the decisions that were made for her. Sawchyn is imperious and seductive as Hades; and despite his commanding personality, he’s far more sensitive and accommodating than one would think. A lonely god, he seems to really want to get to know Persephone and cares about her welfare and happiness. This in contrast to Beauchamp’s cocky Zeus, who is decidedly more old-school patriarchy; with a laissez-faire attitude toward fatherhood, his power is absolute – but despite his arrogance, he’s not stupid and knows he must make a compromise with Demeter or the people will perish in the harsh conditions of her imposed winter. Francis is lovely, majestic and nurturing as Demeter (aka Mother Nature); in today’s terms, her parenting style would be called “helicopter,” and her fear for her daughter’s safety, while well-founded, is overly controlling at times. Afraid to let her daughter go and ferocious in her pursuit to get her back – you don’t wanna mess with Mother Nature.

Really nice work from the members of the chorus, who portray multiple characters, including trees and a river. Laura Katherine Hayes give a great turn as Persephone’s irreverent, playful friend and lover Diana; and Augusto Bitter and Fiona Haque do a lovely re-enactment of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale. Keshia Palm injects some fabulous sass; and Sheree Spencer brings mystery and some beautiful violin music.

With shouts to the design team: Sim Suzer (costume) and Kennedy Brooks (lighting) for their evocative work on this production.

Take a trip into the Underworld with the beautifully theatrical, sensuous and thought-provoking Persephone.

Persephone continues at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: Xenophobia gone viral in a brutal worldwide dystopia in the beautifully choreographed, evocative Far Away

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PreShow Playlist is running a remarkable production of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away during Toronto Fringe, directed by Megan Watson and choreographed by Patricia Allison – and running in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace.

Xenophobia is a widespread, global disease and has become the default response in this dystopic world, where humans, animals – and even the elements – have perceived alliances and enemies. Joan (Michela Cannon) comes to live with her aunt Harper (Alix Sideris) and uncle, and sees things happening outside in the night that she doesn’t understand. Later, we see Joan working in a factory, where she becomes friends, then lovers, with Todd (Michael Ayres); and where their artistic gifts are put to a deadly purpose. When they arrive at Harper’s house as a couple, Harper questions Todd’s allegiance and the pair’s intentions. The tension is high and the paranoia excruciating, with enemies and traitors expected around every corner, the killing of any man, woman, child or animal is justified – even the river itself is regarded as suspicious.

In this beautifully crafted physical theatre production, movement conveys emotion, memory, activities and secrets, and carries equal weight to the dialogue; complementing and enhancing the spoken component of the script. The cast does excellent work here, combining words and movement as the characters balance on a razor’s edge. Sideris is both chilling and nurturing as Harper; with a grim sense of resolve, her dark commitment to the cause of her side is contrasted by the positive, rationalized spin she puts on her position. As Joan, Cannon is a bright innocent with a positive edge; the energy of her youthful questioning and wariness turns to lethal productivity and an eye towards a future with Michael. Ayres gives Michael a lovely sense of playfulness and curiosity; he seems to be the most open to reaching out for connection and questioning the truths held by those around him.

With shouts to the design team: Sorcha Gibson (set and costumes) for the eerie clothesline-like rows of white masks, hanging like the faces of the dead across the stage; Kathy Anderson (sound) for the haunting music and atmospheric sounds of this world; and Chris Malkowski (lighting) for the dramatic highlights throughout.

Xenophobia gone viral in a brutal worldwide dystopia in the beautifully choreographed, evocative Far Away.

Far Away continues at the TPM Mainspace until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Raw, real, funny & socially astute – Soup Can Theatre/safeword/Aim for the Tangent Theatre Co-pro Circle Jerk

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Playwright/director Brandon Crone (Maypole Rose – safeword)

Was back out to the Spadina/Queen West neighourhood last night to see the Soup Can Theatre, safeword and Aim for the Tangent Theatre co-production Circle Jerk at lemonTree studio (196 Spadina Ave., just north of Queen St. West).

Featuring four short, new plays, the production provided some interesting instructions to playwrights: they were to use selected lines of dialogue – submitted by the public (almost 300 submissions) – as the opening and closing lines of their plays (with the closing line of one play also serving as the opening line of the next play). The four selected lines were:

“Subtlety is not your specialty.”
“What’s Bulgarian for slut?”
“I think it’s time we talked about your filthy rituals.”
“I fucking hate potatoes.”

Throw in the tagline: Sex. Death. Bananas. and, along with the cyclical structure – a round robin of short plays that literally play off of each other, one tagging another – and there’s the title of the production.

Dust Peddling: Part II (Soup Can Theatre), by Scott Dermody and directed by Joanne Williams. Have you ever had an orgasm? A bed. A man. A woman. Erotic and poetic, physical theatre meets verse and prose in this beautifully edgy and lyrical hybrid piece, where the words are dialogue, foreplay and more. Lovely, candid work from actors Dermody and Lisa Hamalainen.

Sex and This (Aim for the Tangent Theatre), by Wesley J. Colford and directed by Jakob Ehman. What the actual fuck?! Two energetic young urban women getting ready for a themed costume party at a friend’s house are interrupted by some dire news. Facebook and text-reliant Millennials deal with communicating loss. Darkly funny, poignant and truthful performances from Tiffany Deobald and Carys Lewis.

Maypole Rose (safeword), written and directed by Brandon Crone. Two fags, a potent fatty and a bag of junk food. A young married, health-conscious gay couple indulge in stoned monkey lovin’ and junk food consumption. A frank fly-on-the-wall look at a relationship – workaday inanity, bedroom rituals, gender roles, secrets and all. Sexy, raw, tender and funny, with fabulous and honest performances from Alexander Plouffe and G. Kyle Shields.

The Session (Soup Can Theatre), written and directed by Justin Haigh. When under extreme pressure, everyone has his/her breaking point. A workplace counselling session goes to some very dark places as the plant therapist (Matt Pilipiak) and nuclear safety expert (Allan Michael Brunet) work through their introductory meeting. Brunet and Pilipiak do a remarkable job with the back and forth of power/control and vulnerability/fragility, as well as the dramatic tension and dark humour of the piece.

Circle Jerk also features live music inspired by the four lines of dialogue: Subtlety is not Your Specialty by Marla Kishimoto, What’s Bulgarian for Slut by Soup Can Theatre’s Music Director, Pratik Gandhi, I Think it’s Time We Talked About Your Filthy Rituals by Peter Cavell, and I Fucking Hate Potatoes by Patricia Stevens. Directed by Gandhi, the five-piece mini-orchestra includes an upright bass, cello, clarinet, flute and keyboard. The pool of musicians includes Katie Saunoris, Subrina Sookram, Ainsley Lawson, Rachel Gauntlett, Cory Latkovich, Matteo Ferrero-Wong, Brandon Sked and Susan Kim. Lighting on intense, whimsical and cultural flavour – from a piece featuring a hilariously bad (on purpose), yet passionate, clarinet solo to a jolly Irish-inspired tune that turns into a meltdown – the music mirrored and enhanced the theatrical content perfectly.

Sometimes a banana isn’t just a banana. Circle Jerk is a raw, real, darkly funny and socially astute set of short new plays, combining a trio of fine local indie theatre companies with crowd-sourced creativity and multidisciplinary talent. So get yourself out to lemonTree studio and go see this.

Circle Jerk continues its run at lemonTree studio tonight (Nov 15) and tomorrow (Nov 16), and this coming week from Nov 21 – 23; all performances at 8 p.m.

Otherworldly, eerily beautiful & intensely visceral – Shotgun Juliet’s Stealth

StealthCourtyard3You enter the space via the alley off of Sullivan. Dark. Quiet. No signage. And enter through a worn wooden gate into the backyard of 8-11 Gallery. A spooky young woman sitting on a cut bit of tree trunk beckons you to her – she is the gatekeeper hostess and box office, her dead-pan voice offering cryptic responses to queries about the show. She is, however, forthcoming about the location of the bar and washroom indoors: through the back door and up the short flight of stairs to the right. We may sit anywhere we like in the yard, but must not go downstairs.

Sitting on one of the slightly damp wooden slat benches in the early evening darkness, you notice the smell of wet bark, leaves, soil. The overcast sky, visible beyond the nearly bare branches, reveals one bright star – a planet, perhaps. You’re glad it’s not raining now and especially grateful for the unseasonably mild late October night. The backyard fills with others. And soon it begins.

Our hostess alerts us that they’re coming. We can hear them before we see them. Four women dressed in black enter the yard through the gate, moving in music-less – but not soundless – rhythmic time. A ritual. A dance. A communion of community. As they exit into the gallery and down the stairs, suddenly, all is not well with one of the women. Our hostess beckons us to follow her downstairs, where we witness the rest of the action wordlessly play out, the smell of damp woods outdoors exchanged for the smell of damp stone indoors.

This is Shotgun Juliet’s production of Stealth, a physical theatre/dance piece directed/conceived by Matthew Eger; and choreographed/performed by Patricia Allison, Miranda Forbes, Darwin Lyon and Amanda Pye. The production company aptly describes the piece as “four women who have vowed to be silent and hidden together – until one decides she wants out,” framing the story in such a way that piques interest without giving too much away. Much like our mysterious hostess. Out of respect for the production and future audiences, I will also not divulge much here.

I can tell you that these women are closely bound together – physically and emotionally – and the reaction when one of the women leaves is immediate and powerful. The use of light, dark and shadow is extremely effective, as is the haunting soundtrack that plays indoors, industrial music infused with the faint static sounds of radio communication – a white noise of sorts, but also strikingly alien in tone. This production is big on atmosphere: mystery, anticipation, and the experience of heightened senses and imagination.

I can also tell you that the cast does a marvelous job of using their bodies, gestures and expressions to tell this story. Specific relationships are highlighted and challenged, and loyalties are questioned. Vocalizations are all the more intense as they erupt from a largely silent scenario and used sparingly.

And, then, it’s over. As you exit back along the alley – back to the real world – the wet crunch of the pavement beneath your feet seems more distinct.

Stealth is an otherworldly, eerily beautiful and intensely visceral physical theatre/dance hybrid.

Stealth continues its run at 8-11 Gallery (233 Spadina Ave., a bit north of Queen/Spadina – enter through the alley off of Sullivan) until November 1. Dress warmly. Don’t be afraid of the dark. The box office mistress will keep you safe.

SummerWorks: Joy, energy & pathos in If Hearts Could Bloom

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Amy Wong & Tamara Kailas

Another delightful group of young actors opened their SummerWorks show at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night: the Sears Drama Festival production of Bur Oak Secondary School’s show If Hearts Could Bloom, written by James Croker and Cameron Ferguson, inspired by a story by Preston Lam.

Directed by Ferguson, with choreography by Ferguson, Croker and Christel Bartelse, and film directed by Cody Clayton, If Hearts Could Bloom combines clown, comedia and physical theatre to tell a story that tackles some serious issues: individuality/conformity, bullying/courage, sexism and harassment, ageism, greed and power, and gender identity.

A short, silent film sets the stage for the social order of this world. A Mad Scientist (Jeremy Chong) creates clowns with yellow hearts, but when he tries something different – a purple heart that makes the clown behave differently than the others – Corporate Greed Man (Jeremy Tremblett) responds with an emphatic No! The Mad Scientist caves in, apparently needing the money, and goes back to using yellow hearts. And off we go, into the live onstage journey of a special young clown, born with a purple heart.

There are some truly lovely moments in this show: the sweet, fast-paced meeting, courtship, marriage and arrival of a baby for Everyperson’s Mom (Kainaat Rizvi) and Dad (Cody Clayton) – and the delivery scene with the Doctor (Shareesa Haniff) was hilarious. And Everyperson (Tamara Kailas) and Everywoman (Amy Wong) had an equally adorable meet cute at a children’s birthday party, where Everywoman is the only kid who doesn’t think Everyperson is a freak; the two actors did a lovely job with this bashful, burgeoning relationship. I also loved the school bus bit and the clown Elvis (Bianca Dias, who also co-directed the film segment) at the variety show, as well as the squeals of delight from Everyperson’s rubber chicken bit – the laughter was contagious. This is a show that keeps the audience engaged and attentive, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Ultimately, this is a show about love and courage.

If Hearts Could Bloom is a hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and thought-provoking multi-media clown show, featuring a bright young cast who bring all the joy, energy and pathos.

If Hearts Could Bloom continues its run for two more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman: tonight (Fri, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, Aug 16 at 1:30 p.m.