Suffrage, prohibition, love & puppets in Driftwood’s charming, timely, re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It)

Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Driftwood Theatre Group puts a beloved Shakespearean heroine’s name back on the marquee with its charming, timely 2018 Bard’s Bus Tour production of the re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It), directed by AD D. Jeremy Smith. It’s 1918; and women’s suffrage, prohibition and WWI are at the forefront—and so is true love. I caught Rosalynde in Toronto at Ontario Place Trillium Park last night.

The Duke’s Distillery has been taken over by Frederick (Eric Woolfe), a hard-nosed gangster who has ousted his brother Senior to take over the business and run illegal booze across Lake Ontario to the U.S. Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden, finding rustic sanctuary with a small group of loyal followers. The banished Senior’s daughter Rosalynde (Sochi Fried) has been allowed to stay, as she’s the beloved friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia (Ximena Huizi)—but when he finds public opinion favouring his niece, he banishes her as well. Armed with a plan to flee to the forest disguised as brother and sister, the two young women sneak away with the company Fool Touchstone (Geoffrey Armour) in tow.

The neglected young Orlando (Ngabo Nabea) is facing similar struggles at home with his cruel older brother Oliver (Derek Kwan). When he goes to test his mettle at a local wrestling match, he and Rosalynde become mutually smitten; and he defeats Frederick’s man Charles (puppet, Megan Miles). When his faithful old servant Adam (Armour) learns that Oliver and Frederick are plotting against Orlando’s life, he urges his young master to flee—and the two leave their home for the safety of the forest.

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Ngabo Nabea, with Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried in the background. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Forest of Arden is where the magic happens. Disguised as the youth Ganymede, Rosalynde advises the love-struck Orlando, as well as the love-sick shepherd Silvius (puppet, Kwan), whose rebuffed attentions to Phebe (puppet, Miles) are thwarted further by Phebe’s new-found attraction to Ganymede. And one of Senior’s (Woolfe) friends, the world-weary, profoundly disheartened suffragette Jaques (Caroline Gillis), searches for meaning and a reason to carry on as she observes life in the forest, the unfolding love stories and a Fool out for a wife. Love, reunion, and new perspectives on life and the world unfold—and the forest inhabitants demonstrate compassion, equity and brave determination. And yet, we’re reminded that not all will partake in the new rights and opportunities that emerge during this time: men and women of colour do not yet have the right to vote; and men of colour are denied the opportunity to serve in the war.

Stellar work from the ensemble in a production that entertains as much as it illuminates. Weaving in snatches of news on the suffrage movement, prohibition and the First World War, we get the sense of a time and place immersed in great upheaval and social change. The rural natives of the forest are all puppets, as are some of Frederick’s henchmen (Eric Woolfe is also the AD of Eldritch Theatre, specializing in horror and fantasy storytelling using puppetry, mask and magic)—masterfully brought to life by various members of the cast, especially Megan Miles.

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Megan Miles as Charles the wrestler. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Fried is luminous as the mercurial, fiercely independent, giddy in love Rosalynde; coupled with Nabea’s brave, bold and adorably bashful Orlando, we see two abused young people forced to flee their homes and take charge of their lives—and coming to see the world, themselves and love with new eyes. The wisdom of women figures prominently in this production, from Huizi’s sharply witty, sassy, ever loyal Celia to Gillis’s poignant, well-travelled, experienced aviatrix Jaques. Jaques comes by her melancholy honestly, having seen—and feeling too much—of the world’s unfairness and cruelty. Here, the women school each other and the men in their lives: Jaques shares her experience with observant Celia; and the practical Rosalynde teaches the idealistic Orlando about the everyday nature of romantic relationships. Armour gives a hilarious, high-energy performance—bringing laughs and social commentary—as the quixotic scamp Touchstone.

Rosalynde (or, As You Like It) has one more performance at Ontario Place Trillium Park tonight (Aug 2) at 7:30 p.m.; thanks to the generous support of Ontario Place, admission is free—and Driftwood is happily accepting donations. Bring a chair, a blanket and bug spray (chair rental is available for $5—get there early). There’s a concession stand with drinks (including alcohol) and snacks; you can also score some sweet Driftwood merch over by the chair rental tent.

The Bard’s Bus Tour continues on its way, wrapping up its run on August 12. Check the Driftwood website for performance dates and locations; admission is free or PWYC, as indicated in the venue listing. Worried about weather? Check out the rain policy here.

For more on Rosalynde, check out director D. Jeremy Smith and actor Sochi Fried in an interview with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Here and Now.

 

 

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A sexy, funny & poignant look at a gay fanboy’s dream come true – My Dinner with Casey Donovan

Seanna Kennedy Photography Dinner With Casey Donovan Production Shots (20)
Michael De Rose & Nathaniel Bacon in My Dinner with Casey Donovan – photo by Seanna Kennedy Photography

In this world there are only two tragedies; one is not getting what one wants, the other is getting it. – Oscar Wilde

Calvin Limehouse is about to live a gay fanboy’s dream come true: gay porn star/model Casey Donovan is coming to his house for dinner. Thing is, he lives with his parents, who don’t know he’s gay.

Set in the 1970s in a suburban home in Connecticut, The Cabaret Company’s production of Sky Gilbert’s My Dinner with Casey Donovan – directed by Gilbert and running now at the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace – could easily be called The Education of Calvin Limehouse.

The play opens with a clip from a Casey Donovan movie, projected on the back wall of the playing space and featuring Donovan emerging naked from the water like a god to join the naked man sunning himself on the beach. Calvin (Michael De Rose) then sets up the story for us as he nervously paces in front of a pair of phallus-like shrubs, which are sculpted like twin penises sheathed in condoms, the receptacles poking up nipple-like from the tips. When Casey Donovan (Nathaniel Bacon) arrives, Calvin can barely contain himself. And they are blocks away from his home and early for dinner, so they have ample time to get better acquainted as they stroll around the block. Twice. Once they arrive at Calvin’s house, the shrubbery is parted to reveal the family dining table, set for dinner (with shouts to Sheree Tams for the set and costume design).

Of course, hilarity and drama ensue over – and after – dinner. But you’re going to have to go and see that for yourself.

I can tell you that Gilbert has selected an outstanding cast to tell this story. De Rose is adorkable as the neurotic, sexually repressed fanboy; the boldness that Calvin exhibits in extending the invitation to his idol is tinged with a deep-seated insecurity and lack of maturity. Conversely, Bacon’s stunningly handsome Casey is easy-going, calm and confident, both sexuality and otherwise – but even he has his Achilles heel. Elley-Ray is a treat as Calvin’s mom Rita, a congenial and well-meaning but overprotective mother (today, she’d be referred to as a helicopter mom), her heartache and concern revealed when she shares a lovely, intimate and moving scene with Casey. Ralph Small, as Calvin’s dad Charles, gives us a hard-headed, uptight conservative patriarch who is not immune to the charms of their dinner guest, as he and Casey bond over the selection in his wine cellar.

Yep, that Casey Donovan charms the pants off the entire family. But I will say no more. Go see this play.

My Dinner with Casey Donovan is a sexy, funny and poignant look at a gay fanboy’s dream come true. But, as the saying goes: be careful what you wish for.

My Dinner with Casey Donovan runs at the TPM backspace until March 22. Seating is limited – and last night’s opening was sold out – so advance booking is strongly recommended.

Seanna Kennedy Photography Dinner With Casey Donovan Production Shots (148)
Ralph Small, Nathaniel Bacon, Elley-Ray & Michael De Rose in My Dinner with Casey Donovan – photo by Seanna Kennedy Photography