The secret thoughts of grownups &the stories they tell in the gripping, darkly funny Mockingbird Close

Tiana Leonty & David MacInnis—photo by Jackie Brown Photography

 

When truth collides with fiction, who can you trust?

INpulse Theatre Co. presents the Toronto premiere of Trevor Schmidt’s Mockingbird Close, directed by Ryan F. Hughes and running at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Iris (Tiana Leonty) and Hank (David MacInnis) live in a nice, clean split-level home on a nice, quiet cul-de-sac in a nice, safe, crime-free neighbourhoood. Their picture-perfect 1950s suburban life is turned upside down when their young son goes missing. Only, when they try to recall the day he disappeared, they can’t seem to get the story right.

As they conduct a door-to-door search on their street—the titular Mockingbird Close—we encounter their neighbours (all played by Leonty and MacInnis); and it’s dark comic portraits all around as we meet them. The vain, judgmental, hyper-religious, cooking baking Louis Vent. Sidney Blackwell, the strangely charming older man with his prized train set in the basement and a bed-ridden wife upstairs. The attention-starved, “Mrs. Robinson” Mona Hobbs. The odd, soft-spoken Jarvis Jermaine. No one has any information on the missing boy—and all are concealing something. And then there’s the malevolent, mysterious older lady; the one the neighbourhood kids call “the witch.” There’s a dangerous, unsettling undercurrent on this street; and each of its inhabitants has a dark, hidden edge.

Incorporating storytelling with satirical fetishization of normalcy and wholesomeness, Mockingbird Close is part fairy tale, part psychological thriller—one might even say David Lynchian. What really happened? And did it even happen?

Leonty and MacInnis are a two-person master class in their performances, playing on the edge of send-up and nuance as they flesh out these secretive, discomfiting characters. Leonty’s Iris is a neat, prim and somewhat high-strung wife and mother; the perfectly coiffed wife in an emerald green cocktail dress who greets her returning husband at the door with slippers, the paper and a martini. And Leonty runs the gamut, from narcissistic and controlling Louis to desperately lonely seductress Mona. MacInnis is the picture of the flawlessly pressed professional and husband; precise and socially astute, he too is tightly wound—more of the ticking time bomb variety. He is eerily engaging as Sidney and creepily attentive as Jarvis. MacInnis and Leonty seamlessly tag team a single character as they take turns portraying the mysterious and manipulative dark lady behind the final door at the end of Iris and Hank’s search.

The secret thoughts of grownups and the stories they tell in the gripping, tension-filled, darkly funny Mockingbird Close.

Mockingbird Close continues at Red Sandcastle until September 16; get your advance tickets online or at the door an hour before show time. Advance booking recommended; it’s an intimate space and last night’s opening was a packed house.

Keep up with INpulse Theatre Co. on Facebook. You can also find them on Instagram: @inpulsetheatre and Twitter: @inpulse_theatre

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NSTF: Past & future collide with biting political satire in the hilariously trippy The Death of Mrs. Gandhi & the Beginning of New Physics (a political fantasy)

Everything but the Bard takes us on a time travelling, feminist political fantasy in Kawa Ada’s The Death of Mrs. Gandhi and the Beginning of New Physics (a political fantasy). Directed by Ada and overseen by artistic producer Renna Reddie, The Death of Mrs. Gandhi is currently running in the Factory Theatre Mainspace during the Toronto Fringe Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF).

In 1984, a group of female political heavyweights meet for Indira Gandhi’s funeral: Margaret Thatcher (Elley-Ray Hennessy), Benazir Bhutto (Tennille Read), Imelda Marcos (Nina Lee Aquino) and a young go-getter intern named Kim Campbell (Trenna Keating). When their gathering is interrupted by a mysterious woman named Malala (Ellora Patnaik), they find themselves trapped in a quantum bubble. The new arrival claims to be from 2030, and she has some information and instructions for them to get back to their time and space—and save the world!

Outstanding work from the cast, serving up sharp and darkly funny renderings of these women. Hennessy is hilariously imperious as Thatcher; condescending and imperialist to the core, the Iron Lady has a soft spot for “boyfriend” Ronny Reagan. Read does a lovely job with the ambitious young Bhutto; vain and privileged, she’s a favourite of Thatcher, who’s taken the young leader in waiting under her wing to be her mentor. Aquino gives an LOL turn as Marcos; cluelessly decadent, fancying herself a modern-day Marie Antoinette and crazy like a fox, she’s the penultimate 80s material girl.

Keating is adorkably mousy as the anxious young intern Campbell; super apologetic and deferring to Thatcher in all things, she shows her teeth when she comes to realize that Malala has something important to say. Patnaik gives us a sassy and determined grown-up Malala; brutally honest and ballsy, she stands her ground with this group of impressive, powerful women to fulfill her mission. And she has some startling and unusual ideas to save the future.

Featuring intrigue, espionage, top secret machinations and some wacky new physics, The Death of Mrs. Gandhi lampoons sexism, racism, imperialism and political propaganda.

Past and future collide with biting political satire in the hilariously trippy The Death of Mrs. Gandhi and the Beginning of New Physics (a political fantasy).

The Death of Mrs. Gandhi and the Beginning of New Physics (a political fantasy) continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace until Jan 15. Get your advance tix and passes online; and check out the full NSTF schedule.

Photo: Tennille Read and Elley-Ray Hennessy – by Cylla von Tiedemann

Preview: June Cleaver goes to hell in hilariously dark, satirical & surreal Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT

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Filament Incubator presents Raw Matter’s production of Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT, written, directed, designed and performed by the Raw Matter ensemble, incorporating the writing of Sylvia Plath, Silvia Federici and Jean Genet. Opening tonight, I caught the preview at Kensington Hall (56A Kensington Ave., Toronto) last night.

When you arrive in the space, you’re immediately aware of all the pink. Up stage right is an enormous pile of laundry; stage left has a lush garden; and up centre is the kitchen, featuring a gas stove and counter. All very pink. Like old-school Barbie threw up all over that shit pink. Five women are already onstage, engaged in various household activities: laundry, baking, scrubbing the floor, beautification and gardening. The sound of a ticking clock. Loud. Merciless. Oh yeah, and there’s a baby doll on your chair; you’ll need that for one of the game shows later on.

Three of the women act as a chorus of house fairy-like beings; dressed in pale pink diaphanous dresses, their faces made up with shiny, metallic colours: Maybelline (Veronika Brylinska), Lysol (Alanna Dunlop) and Betty Crocker (Nicole De Angelis). They are the cheerleaders for traditional, old-school housewifery – the driving force in the nucleus of life, the home. In contrast, we see the growing frustration and irritation of M/Em (Daniela Pagliarello), who speaks with vivid, fierce poetry as she paces the garden like a caged animal. All the while, Powered by (Rebecca Hooton) works away at the laundry, seemingly oblivious to anything else.

This multi-media production draws on political, philosophical, technological and economic frames of reference in its presentation of various points of view on housekeeping, housewifery and womanhood. Throughout the hysterical absurdity of it all are some particularly entertaining and thought-provoking scenes: capitalism vs. communism in the Nixon/Khrushchev kitchen debates, featuring footage from that meetup; game shows, including one with group audience participation and another that sends up Let’s Make A Deal; and a beauty pageant – peppered throughout with variety show-style dance breaks. And things get really interesting when M/Em breaks free from her garden environment and bursts into the world of the house fairies, interrupting their delicate, light, “feminine” reverie. And far from being a passive entity on the sidelines, we see just how much this world relies on the efforts of Powered by.

Shouts to the Raw Matter ensemble for their incredible work on the writing, design and execution of this provocative and thoughtful piece. Brylinska brings a ferocious commitment to the otherwise superficial Maybelline; Dunlop’s Lysol is delightfully sassy; and De Angelis’s Betty Crocker is deliciously vacuous. As M/Em, Pagliarello is a housewife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the lone voice of dissention that dares to challenge the Christian/capitalist status quo of housewifery. Hooton’s Powered by is silent, uncomplaining and diligent; and, ultimately, she shows us just how committed she is to – and how reliant the rest of the world is on – her work.

June Cleaver goes to hell in Raw Matter’s hilariously dark, satirical & surreal Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT.

Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT continues at Kensington Hall until October 1; it’s an intimate space, so you may want to book in advance. And don’t forget to throw the baby!

SummerWorks: Big satirical fun with corporate branding & conspiracy in Tough Guy Mountain: a play

ToughGuyMountainaplay-400x533When I go to the Factory Theatre courtyard box office to pick up a program for the SummerWorks production of Tough Guy Mountain: a play, I’m directed to a stack of pink and white tri-fold brochures. Designed as an Intern Initiation Manual, the document includes illustrations of all of Tough Guy Mountain’s (aka TGM) key corporate players – executives, assistants and interns – along with brief descriptions. It’s a workplace field guide.

Written and directed by Iain Soder, with music by Rory Maclellan, Tough Guy Mountain: a play is set in the headquarters of “an extra-dimensional corporation that creates and manages premium quality brands.”  The futuristic pre-show music serves as a soundtrack, accompanying pre-recorded informational sound bites about the company and being a good intern. The show also incorporates projection with computer animation and live action (especially effective, and hysterically funny, with Holographic Kyle, played by Cale Weir), music numbers and even a dance break or two.

It’s Lisa’s (Jessica Brown) first day as an unpaid intern at TGM and, like Alice through the looking glass, she enters a strange new world of interesting and eccentric corporate entities. And manages to discover a conspiracy against art, finding herself forced to take action to save what’s important to her.

Really nice work from the cast in this fast-paced, crazy look at corporate branding and conspiracy. Brown shines as the wide-eyed, eager and ambitious Lisa, a plucky young intern who is clearly nobody’s fool. Other stand-outs include Elizabeth Johnston as the hilarious sharp-tongued dragon lady Queenie Empress; Jonathan Carroll as the neurotic and impulsive exec Joan Popular; and writer/director Soder’s slick, arrogant Ivan Phone. And big LOLs from William James Kasurak as the driven, robot-like Intern Phil; Sam Roberts as the obsessively committed Intern Stan; and Cat Bluemke as Beige Cathy, the perfectly efficient, deadpan executive assistant with a glare so withering, she doesn’t need to say a word. Shouts to Inez Genereux (TGM’s fashionable, artsy client) and Atleigh Homma (the precocious and sassy Holographic Lisa).

And shouts to graphic designer Bluemke for the most innovative program design I’ve seen.

It’s big satirical fun with corporate branding and conspiracy in Tough Guy Mountain: a play.

Tough Guy Mountain: a play continues at the Factory Theatre Studio until Aug 16 – check here for their scheduling.

Toronto Fringe: Waiting for Godot meets Brazil – in space – in bizarro, quirky fun Waiting for Alonzo

waiting_for_alonzo_18-250x250Buckle your seatbelts, kids, ‘cuz it’s going to be a bumpy ride. In space. Post-apocalyptic satire in Empty Box Theatre Company’s [link] production of Waiting for Alonzo, written and directed by Keavy Lynch – running at the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace for Toronto Fringe.

In a post-apocalyptic time in the near future, a lone ship floats through space. The ship’s captain and all-around bossy boots Doctor Zanita (Victoria Urquhart) has seen a single life form reading scurry across their monitor and is convinced that Alonzo is coming. The anticipation of his arrival throws her into a right tizzy, and she wants everything to be perfect. Beside herself, she bursts into a flurry of activity, ordering her faithful assistant Bielke (Hayley Malouin) around, and pestering her hunky talking computer man statue Andre (Kevin Chew) for assessments of her appearance. Of course, it’s all futile. And all for a man!

Victoria Urquhart & Hayley Malouin in Waiting for Alonzo
Victoria Urquhart & Hayley Malouin in Waiting for Alonzo

Urquhart’s Doctor Zanita is a mean girl with a PhD, obsessed with body modification (with comic results) in her efforts to become a perfect ‘10’ – a pathetic mess underneath the arrogant attitude and gorgeous, Barbie doll body. Malouin is a delight as the adorably sweet (or is she?), put-upon Bielke; mistreated by her employer, but cheerfully sharing some comically maudlin advice on the bright side of death with the audience when she has a moment to herself. Chew’s Andre is a calm and static observer, a highly sophisticated computer programmed to respond honestly to Zanita’s personal questions; he has a particularly fun moment, which I won’t spoil here.

The futility of Doctor Zanita’s efforts at “beauty” is particularly pathetic in light of her education and brilliance as a scientist (she built the damn ship, after all); choosing to spend her time and energy on plastic surgery (highlighted in a particular grotesquely hilarious scene) as she awaits the arrival of a man instead of – oh, I don’t know – searching for an inhabitable planet, or finding and rescuing other survivors.

With shouts to designer Nicole Titus for the wacky, spacy set, props and costumes.
Waiting for Alonzo is Waiting for Godot meets Brazil – in space – in this bizarro, quirky fun post-apocalyptic tale.

Waiting for Alonzo has two more performances at the TPM Mainspace: July 10 at 7:30 p.m. and July 11 at 5:45 p.m.

A topsy-turvy look at the bizarre dynamics of the corporate world in entertaining Fever/Dream

Full Cast Promo PhotoOut at the theatre one more time last night – this time, to The Jumblies Ground Floor for Seven Siblings Theatre’s Canadian premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s Fever/Dream, directed by Will King, assisted by Madryn McCabe. I saw Seven Siblings’ dramatic, violent and compelling production of Mercury Fur last year – and this exciting young company goes for the edge while venturing into the comic side of a surreal world in Fever/Dream.

An adaptation of Pedro Calderón’s Life Is a Dream, Callaghan set Fever/Dream in present-day America, where the king is President Bill Basil (Mladen Obradovic), the head of a corporate empire in his 77-foot tall office tower palace.

It is in the bowels of the tower that we first see Segis, our young protagonist (Trevor Ketcheson), seated and unconscious at his desk. His hair and beard long and unkempt, his clothing torn and filthy, he resembles a castaway more than an office worker. Prisoner, more like it. The phone receiver seems permanently attached to his hand and he is chained to the desk, his daily food rations dispensed from a trap door in the wall near the ceiling. The only words he can seem to speak are the scripted lines of apology and transfer action – he is a customer service rep. His lack of human contact becomes apparent with the arrival of Rose (Olivia Orton) and Claire (Alexandra Simpson), who’ve become lost in the building. The two girls are soon busted by the office manager Fred (Dylan Mawson) and are sentenced to working in the office.

President Bill Basil is seriously ill and has decided to retire; but instead of passing the reins to his two top managers Stella (Geneviève Trottier) and Aston (Peter Jarvis), he has decided to pass the job along to his secret son, with Stella and Aston as Plan B. Guess who the secret son is. Add to the mix a chorus of multitasking actors playing security guards, accountants and vlogging associates (Karina Bradfield, Zenna Davis-Jones and Courtney Keir), and you have a recipe for a wacky tale of chain reaction events and secrets revealed in a crazy, satirical look at corporate culture.

King and McCabe have a sharp, engaging cast for this underdog trip down the rabbit hole – or, in this case, up the office tower. Ketcheson does a marvelous job as Segis, going from a feverish grasping for language and meaning to rising up as he discovers love and purpose; lost and disoriented, he struggles to find his way even as he grapples with his own emotions in a strange new world. And is it all even real? Orton gives Rose a sharp sense a drive and commitment; wry-witted and resourceful, she too has a secret agenda and is forced to deal with a surprise discovery of her own. As Rose’s chirpy roommate Claire, Simpson does a bang-up job as the super positive and loyal sidekick, transferring these skills to her job as the perfect office temp; but when she realizes that hers is a Sisyphean task, that bubbly personality boils over. Jarvis is a slick piece of work as Aston, the classic all sizzle and no steak equation, but with people skills that complement Stella, who is more qualified but short on soft skills. Trottier shines as Stella, a brilliant but icy dragon lady, a Harvard and Wharton grad frustrated by corporate sexism, and finding herself melting into her warm feelings for the new boss. Obradovic brings a regal ruthlessness to Basil, moved by vengeance to disown and banish his own son to the basement, only to promote the unprepared Segis in an act of hubris in order to continue his bloodline. As Basil’s right-hand man Fred, Mawson is a chilling master of corporate speak, executing Basil’s every whim and cleaning up messes with clock-like precision and accuracy; but, like Stella, he is not without a soft spot.

Chorus members Bradfield, Davis-Jones and Keir are multitasking machines, executing set changes in character and shifting from security detail to accountants to vlogging 20-something associates and back again with skill and style; they may be representing the lowly drones of the business – but work doesn’t get done without worker bees. And their daily workday lives of white noise get turned up to 11 when they find inspiration in Segis.

Whether peasant or king – worker drone or president – we all must come to grips with our own mortality. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – so aptly illustrated in Segis’s caricature behaviour in his brief time as president, becoming a tyrant despite his good intentions.

With shouts to some excellent staging and design. The white, sterile set with its secret doors (Stephen King); the back scrim projections (Will King) of skyline and industrial cogs add to the surreal, industrial atmosphere; and the hopeful sound of water burbles up through white noise, and office machine lights, beeps and squeals (Parker Nowlan). The slow, romantic ocean fantasy sequences (choreographer Rosslyn King) and retirement party pandemonium (fight choreographer Annemieke Wade) are highly evocative and entertaining, moving and dream-like.

Fever/Dream is a topsy-turvy look at the bizarre dynamics of the corporate world, fueled by a fine, high-energy cast.

Fever/Dream continues at The Jumblies Ground Floor until May 31. NOTE: Jumblies is located at 132 Fort York Blvd., a bit east of Bathurst – Google searches may direct you to the Scarborough location and Google Maps shows the address as west of Bathurst (don’t go there!). You can purchase advance tix online here.

Toronto Fringe NSTF: Big rhapsodic fun with sketch comedy in Unbridled & Unstable

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Gwynne Phillips & Briana Templeton in Unbridled & Unstable

My second opening night show at the Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF) in the Factory Theatre Studio last night was The Templeton Philharmonic’s production of Gwynne Phillips’ and Briana Templeton’s sketch comedy romp Unbridled and Unstable.

From the moment they appear through the mist astride their noble steeds Dvorak and Duchovny (riding side saddle, of course), Philips and Templeton take the audience on an engaging, satirical ride of sketches: Victorian equestrian ladies, a book club discussion, a 1950s amateur foley artist radio show, a real estate agent’s absurd home showing and audience participation horse racing.

Drawing on psychological dramas and thrillers of the 50s and 60s, Phillips’ and Templeton’s voice and diction work is spot on. Most of the sketches are two-handers, but the gals break out for solo efforts: Templeton’s hilarious historic romance novelist reading, and Phillips as the drunken and inappropriately frank Aunt Gloria, staggering down memory lane as she describes the photos in a family album to the kids. Throw in some wacky fun dance breaks – with nods to disco, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and Truly Scrumptious’s music box doll from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – and you’ve got one ripping good time.

Added bonus: Templeton Philharmonic merch is available for purchase before the show and the program notes include saucy renderings of horses by Philips, Templeton and SM/Associate Producer Vanessa K. Purdy.

Unbridled and Unstable is a big, rhapsodic fun trip though some sharp-witted and highly entertaining sketch comedy. Somewhere, Dorothy Parker is raising a martini glass to these two wacky, smart and fun-loving gals.

Unbridled and Unstable continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until Sun, Jan 18 – with a talkback at The Hoxton following the show on Sun, Jan 11. Click here for advance tix.