Preview: Professional & personal responses to tragedy collide in the darkly funny, deeply human Vitals

Lauren Wolanski. Photo by John Wamsley.

 

After mounting a successful workshop reading of selections of Rosamund Small’s Vitals at Paprika Festival this year, Theatre Born Between (TBB) mounts the play in its entirety in its first full-scale production, directed by TBB co-founder Bryn Kennedy and running at The Commons Theatre. Darkly funny, deeply human and candid, Vitals is an up close look at the collision of a paramedic’s personal and professional responses to the serious, sometimes tragic, situations she’s called upon to attend.

Anna (Lauren Wolanski) is a Toronto paramedic—and a damn good one at that. A fierce, knowledgeable professional who suffers no fools and makes daily split-second life and death decisions, Anna has a strong sense of empathy and understanding for those she’s called upon to help. But her sharp, insightful sense of observation tells her when the tragedy in front of her is human-made—either through malice or negligence; and she has little patience or sympathy for the perpetrators. This goes for her colleagues, some of whom she has great respect for—like Afghanistan war vet Amir—focused, effective professionals she enjoys partnering with. Then there are the scattered, overly talkative, hero wanna-be types like Harry, who she despises. “People are terrible”—but helping people is her job.

Part anecdotal, part confessional, Anna takes us through a series of calls—the aftermath of which varies, depending on the situation. Gore doesn’t faze her, but rape and cruelty are hard to take. And sometimes, for reasons beyond their control, the ambulance just can’t get there fast enough; and she tries to swallow those situations as best she can. Experiencing the best and worst of people as she arrives in their lives during moments of extreme stress, vulnerability and tragedy—the clock ticking and every second counting—some calls get too close and stick. Some calls haunt and tear at her soul; triggering profound, life-changing responses to extreme situations.

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Lauren Wolanski. Photo by John Wamsley.

Wolanski is a brilliant storyteller; complementing the taut, razor-sharp observations of the script, hilarious gallows humour, and engaging, theatrical staging with a sharply rendered performance that weaves in and out of each 911 story with profound candour, intelligence and vulnerability. Rounding out the feisty, hard-ass side of Anna with an abiding sense of empathy and compassion, Wolanski takes us right along this ride with Anna’s deep, personal sense of commitment to the job and her raw personal reactions to the horrific, human mess of it all.

Vitals opens tonight and continues at The Commons (587A College St., Toronto—just east of Clinton) until November 25. Get advance tickets online or purchase at the door (cash only); PWYC/discounted advance tickets on November 21. It’s an intimate space, so advance booking or early arrival are recommended.

Audience warning: This production includes mentions of sexual assault, detailed descriptions of violence and suicide, and strong language. Suitable for audience members 14+. 

 

 

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Preview: LOL warfare with neighbours from Hell in the quirky, edgy Person of Interest

There are good neighbours and there are bad neighbours. This is a story about the latter: The neighbours from Hell. And what happens when a good neighbour gets pushed too far. Written and performed by Melody A. Johnson, with additional dialogue by Eric Woolfe and directed by Rick Roberts, Person of Interest previewed last night in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace.

Inspired by the true story of an event that happened on Johnson’s street in Little Poland, Person of Interest is a one-woman tale of a neighbourly dynamic gone wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

Wanting to help out at her son’s school on Pizza Day, Johnson must submit to a background check to determine eligibility/fitness for the task. Standard procedure. What’s not so standard is that her application is denied; she’s been flagged as a Person of Interest. And so we go back to the beginning, back to when she, an actor, met and married Allen, a composer, and how they bought a house in a cool little west end neighbourhood, on a street off of Roncesvalles, and moved in with their five-year-old son Dashiell and their rescue dachshund Luna.

They soon meet the Krakowskis, the next door neighbours with whom they share a three-foot wide alley. A primly neat, pressed, conservative couple with a pre-schooler and a dog of their own, no sooner have the introductions been made when the Krakowskis request that Johnson and family move their furnace vent, as they fear it’s a hazard. In true Canadian fashion, Johnson complies; it seems to be a simple enough request and their contractor is still onsite. She later realizes she should have listened to her mother and not given in.

That first request is just the beginning of a series of increasingly nit-picking, unreasonable expectations that go from passive aggressive to downright bullying, with infuriating impacts on outdoor décor and landscaping, not to mention the Krakowski’s Hummer blasting exhaust fumes into Johnson’s home. Cue the subsequent retaliation and the Law & Order gavel thunk! Desperate, crazy times call for desperate, crazy measures.

Johnson is an entertaining storyteller and a treat to watch. Endearingly Puck-like, full of energy, mischief and irreverence for the mundane, but genuinely wanting to get along, she weaves this sometimes shocking tale of neighbourhood warfare with candour and an edgy sense of fun. Deftly shifting in and out of her cast of characters, highlights include the uptight, controlling, mom from the Hummer driving couple from Hell next door; and her smoking, knitting, crime procedural loving mother, who’s always up for offering her own brand of sage and wry-witted advice. As herself, Johnson plays out with hilarious honesty scenes from her actor’s life, her growing neurosis as she navigates the looming jackassery next door alone while Allen is away on a gig, and serves up snapshots of universal observational humour.

Person of Interest opens in the Tarragon Workspace tonight and runs for one weekend only, with three more performances: tonight and March 3 at 8:00 pm, and March 4 at 2:30 pm. Get advance tickets online or by calling 416-531-1827. It’s an intimate venue and a super short run—and last night’s preview was close to sold out— so advance tickets are recommended.

Preview: Silly, half-baked schemes & fake identities abound in the charming, farcical Tons of Money

Back row: Neil Nicholas Kulin, Rob Neilly, Ana Gonzalez, Christopher Wakelin & Drew Smylie. Front row: Kory Preston, Len Henderson, Paula Wilkie, Konstance Koutoulakis & Charlie Parker-Patel in Tons of Money—photo by Thomas Kowal

 

Took a trip out to Scarborough last night for a sneak peek preview of the final dress rehearsal of Scarborough Players’ production of Tons of Money, written by Will Evans and Valentine, and adapted by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Jeremy Henson, Tons of Money opens at the Scarborough Village Theatre tonight.

Set in 1926 in the library of an English country house at Marlow, inventor Aubrey Allington (Christopher Wakelin) and wife Louise (Konstance Koutoulakis) are merrily carrying on their slapdash lives while mired in some serious debt; Aubrey has invented a new explosive material that he’s sure will make them millions, so he’s not worried. Then they receive word from lawyer James Chesterman (Kory Preston) that Aubrey’s brother has died, leaving Aubrey a large amount of cash in his will; in the event of Aubrey’s death, the inheritance will pass to his cousin George Maitland, who is believed to be dead but not conclusively. To avoid having all the inheritance go to their creditors, Louise hatches a plan for Aubrey to fake his death in a workshop explosion and miraculously return a few weeks later as cousin George and claim the cash.

Meanwhile, the Allingtons’ skulking butler Sprules (Drew Smylie) and watchful maid Simpson (Ana Gonzalez) are hatching a scheme of their own involving Sprules’ brother Henery (Len Henderson). And the Allingtons’ plan gets complicated with the appearance of Louise’s friend Jean (Charlie Parker-Patel), who has been secretly married to cousin George! Throw in the ongoing appearances of hard of hearing Aunt Benita (Paula Wilkie), lovesick gardener Giles (Rob Neilly) and a surprise third act arrival (Neil Nicholas Kulin), and you’ve got even more wacky, hilarious good times. And, of course, all hell breaks loose as secret plots and disguises collide.

The cast gives us a rip roaring good time—and they look like they’re having a blast. Koutoulakis (the fiery, strong-willed Louise) and Wakelin (the absent-minded, laissez faire Aubrey) have great chemistry and sense of chaotic fun as the Allingtons. Wilkie is a treat as Aunt Benita; constantly in search of her misplaced knitting, Benita’s not as dotty as she appears, and emerges as one of the sharpest minds in the room. Parker-Patel is the picture of the 1920s lady of leisure as the romantic, dreamy Jean; and Neilly brings bits of subtle, well-timed comedy to the heartbroken gardener Giles.

With shouts to the design team for the fabulous roaring 20s English country house meets art deco vibe: Greg Nowlan and Katherine Turner (set design), Katherine Turner and Jeremy Henson (set décor), Andra Bradish (costumes), Jennifer Bakker (lighting) and Sidnei Auler (sound). Great, fun staging elements in the silent film sequence off the top and the vaudevillian cowbell sound effect highlighting the gags.

Silly, half-baked schemes and fake identities abound in the charming, farcical Tons of Money.

Tons of Money continues at Scarborough Village Theatre till April 22; check the box office page for dates, times and ticket reservations; or call 416-267-9292. Click here for directions (the theatre is part of the Scarborough Village Community Centre), also home to the Scarborough Theatre Guild and Scarborough Music Theatre; the theatre is wheelchair accessible and parking is free.

With thanks to director Jeremy Henson and producer Linda Brent for having me in to see the final dress rehearsal last night, and to Erin Jones for the drive to/from the subway (and the coffee!).

SummerWorks is coming!

sw_logo1Hey theatre fans! Toronto Fringe may be over, but there’s more provocative, exciting theatre to come. SummerWorks 2014 opens a week from today!

A juried festival, featuring theatre, dance, music and art works – often multi-media and multi-disciplinary in nature – SummerWorks is always an exciting arts/culture trip.

SummerWorks runs August 7 – 17; you can purchase advance tickets on the festival website.

Stay tuned for posts on my SummerWorks adventures, starting on August 5 with a preview performance of Yarn.