Big rollicking fun & magic @ You Can’t Take It With You

I want to go live with the Sycamore family.

Some big magical fun at the Young Centre last night when I went to see Soulpepper’s production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You, directed by Joseph Ziegler, where we spend a few days in the family’s living/dining room witnessing the comings and goings of various family members, friends and even prospective in-laws in this rollicking circus of a household.

Set in the late 30s, the living/dining area of the Sycamore home is surprisingly neat, considering all the various pursuits and work going on in the house. Mom Penny (Nancy Palk) has been turning her hand to playwriting of late – this after giving up painting – with several scripts in progress, moving from one to another when she gets writer’s block. Dad Paul (Derek Boyes) plays with Meccano erector sets in his spare time, and designs and creates fireworks in the basement with friend/colleague Mr. De Pinna (Michael Simpson), an child-like unmarried chap, formerly the ice man who came into the house eight years ago and never left. Daughter Essie (Patricia Fagan) works at home as a candy maker and is an aspiring ballet dancer, but not particularly good at it after eight years of studying with Mr. Kolenkhov (Diego Matamoros), while her husband Ed (Mike Ross) who delivers the candy, accompanies her dancing on the xylophone and enjoys printing things – everything from the family’s dinner menu to phrases that catch his fancy. Daughter Alice (Krystin Pellerin), the most conventional member of the family, works at an office, where she meets and falls in love with Tony (Gregory Prest), the boss’s son. Grandpa (Eric Peterson) decided to quit the rat race 35 years ago and has been having loads of fun ever since attending circuses and commencements, playing darts, collecting stamps and caring for his snakes. In addition to the family members are Rheba (Sabryn Rock), the Sycamores’ maid/cook, and her boyfriend Donald (Andre Sills), the handyman – who in their way are both family as well.

Tony and Alice want to get married, but Alice is worried that her unconventional family won’t fit in with prospective – wealthy and conservative – in-laws Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (John Jarvis and Brenda Robins). And her nightmare comes true when Tony brings the folks over a day early for dinner and, despite her family’s support of the match and wanting to make a good impression, all hell breaks loose.

Kaufman and Moss have written a highly entertaining piece about family, acceptance and finding your bliss. Do what you love even if you’re not particularly good at it – as long as you’re getting a kick out of it, it’s all good. Like Grandpa says of money and position: “You can’t take it with you,” so you may as well relax and enjoy yourself – a very forward-thinking notion for the time.

A thoroughly charming play, with lovely performances all around. I especially enjoyed Peterson, an audience favourite who gives us a brilliantly funny and real performance as Grandpa, commenting on the household goings-on and calling folks on their silliness, his pre-dinner grace more like a state-of-the-union chat with God. Additional cast include some fun turns from Raquel Duffy as a drunken actress who comes to read for Penny, Maria Vacratsis as a displaced Russian royal now working as a waitress, and Brian Bisson and Tim Ziegler as the G-men who raid the Sycamore’s dinner party (with Ziegler also playing Henderson, the IRS man who comes to see Grandpa about his unpaid income taxes).

You Can’t Take It With You closes tonight – check out the ticket status and you might be able to squeeze in:


Theatre & music – upcoming adventures

Busy week for this bloggergal, chickens. Here’s a peek at what I’ll be up to:

Atic Productions has a short run of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? opening at the Tarragon Extra Space tonight and running until June 24. This production was directed by Carter West, and features actors Benjamin Blais, Ben Hayward, Rosemary Doyle and Tim Walker. I’ll be wandering over on Friday. For info:

I’ll finally be going to see Soulpepper’s production of You Can’t Take It With You tomorrow night – better late than never. Here’s the scoop on that show:

Saturday will be a music night out with my gals Kat Leonard and Lizzie Violet – this time, at the Horseshoe Tavern to see Tin Star Orphans. Check them out here:

This means I’ll be rolling out the bloggage on these the next day. Whew!

So – what are you up to this week?

Kim’s Convenience a pleasure the second time around

So after not getting on top of the ticket ordering in time to see its previous Soulpepper run, I finally got out to see Kim’s Convenience at the Young Centre last night. And this time, I took two pals Kerri and Ty along for the ride.

Weyni Mengesha directed the Soulpepper run (playwright/actor Ins Choi directed for Toronto Fringe run last year) with most of the same cast from the Fringe premiere, with the exception of Clé Bennett, appearing on stage for the first time (well, since high school), who took on the role of Alex and various other characters. Once again, this outstanding cast gave us a truly funny, poignant and real performance. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is brilliant as Mr. Kim (aka Appa) – bringing us a stoic, stubborn, hard-working man with a quick temper and sharp wit – not to mention awesome martial arts skills – and a sweet guy under the gruff veneer. Jean Yoon returns as Mrs. Kim (Umma), creating a wife and mother who is tiny in stature but big on love, strength and support – and do not piss her off. Lee and Yoon have lovely, tender moments as husband and wife, speaking to each other in Korean during private moments – and in the context of the scene, understandable to everyone in the audience. Other favourite exchanges are between Kim and his daughter Janet (Esther Jun), at times hilarious – from their quick-fire banter to Kim’s imparting his “steal” or “no steal” theory – to combative and intensely fond. Jun is a fun-loving spitfire as Janet, a 30-year-old single gal living at home with her parents and an aspiring photographer, is smart, funny and itching to get out of the store and have a life, but she loves her family dearly despite the generational and cultural differences with her folks. Clé Bennett does an excellent job of juggling four very different characters, including the cop Alex, a childhood friend of Jung’s who now sees his friend’s kid sister Janet with a man’s eyes – and likes what he sees – giving us a nice combo of good-humour and shy suiter. Choi reprises his role as Jung, the son who at first is only spoken of in terms of his troubled teen years and an incident involving his father before he left home at 16. We see him for the first time meeting his mother, in secret, at the family’s local Korean church, a church that is closing due to condo development in the neighbourhood – the same evolution that Kim faces when he is offered a buy-out for the store from a developer. Choi brings a nicely rounded prodigal son tempered by feelings of nostalgia – and a sense of pain regarding the separation from his birth family and disillusionment with his own life and family.

Seeing Kim’s Convenience a second time (I saw it during its Toronto Fringe run last year) was a pleasure – and I got to relive my favourite moments with the Kim family, with two members of my chosen family, who were both seeing it for the first time. And that’s always cool too – watching the reactions of folks who are visiting Kim’s Convenience for the first time.

The run has been extended to July 4 – please visit the website for dates and reservations:

Next up, Kim’s Convenience goes to The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario for a run Jan 15 – Feb 3, 2013:  And let’s send out some positive thoughts for a national – and even international – tour.

According to Mr. Kim’s theory of “steal” or “no steal” – I’m a “steal”. And you’ll just have to go see Kim’s Convenience for yourself to see what I’m talking about.

A haunting Long Day’s Journey

You know what? It’s okay to laugh during a Eugene O’Neill play. Sure, the themes of family dysfunction, addiction and despair are emotionally taxing – for the actors and the audience – but it’s not all grim and gloom. There are some genuine giggles to be had – and not all of them on the darker side of funny.

That was a happy surprise for me as I watched Soulpepper’s production of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night last night – it’s long, it’s intense and the occasional bit of comic relief was most welcome, the laughter like a communal exhalation, the entire audience dropping their shoulders, minds relaxing if only for a moment.

Director Diane Leblanc has a lovely cast for this production: Evan Buliung, Nancy Palk, Krystin Pellerin, Gregory Prest and Joseph Ziegler. Real-life husband and wife Palk and Ziegler play Mary and James Tyrone – she a wife, mother and morphine addict, and he a once great actor turned land- and money-grabbing miser, given into fear of ending up in the poorhouse. Their eldest son Jamie (Buliung) is a disappointing wild child, while their youngest Edmund (Prest) is favoured and in ill-health. All three men are alcoholics. The adorably cheeky maid Cathleen (Pellerin) knows the family well enough on a day-to-day level, but is seemingly unaware of the darker family dynamic at work in the house.

Long Day’s Journey is a deeply tragic autobiographical play – and O’Neill had wanted it kept under lock and key until 25 years after his death, but his widow opened it early. An Irish Catholic tragedy of isolation, addiction, despair and desperation – the Tyrones are his family, including himself. It’s a long, challenging play for both actors and audience, but the cruelty of the family’s substance-addled battles are softened by moments of comic relief and even tenderness. Cruel to be kind, you always hurt the one you love. My favourite scenes are the two-handers: Mary inviting Cathleen to sit down for a drop of whiskey, relating the tale of how she and James met; Edmund and James drinking and playing cards, with James revealing the desperately impoverished childhood that is the source of his miserly ways; the two brothers, Jamie drunkenly returned from the whorehouse, confessing evil intentions and ill-will towards his baby brother – but with a love and tenderness that belies his callousness.

Lovely design work from Peter Hartwell (set and costumes), Steven Hawkins (lighting) and John Gzowski (sound). Like the Tyrones themselves, the family’s summer home is neglected and worn out – a house, but not a home – the upstairs windows suspended from the flies, as if floating, and the centre upstairs room with the small table lamp is particularly foreboding. The lighting is frugally dim, on James’s orders, and the mist of the fog rolling in, with the accompanying sounds of fog horn and bell adding to the sense of isolation. Everything about this family and this place is haunting.

This is a play that stays with you.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night continues its run at the Young Centre in the Distillery. Check the Soulpepper website for details and reservations:

Send in the clone

What can I tell you, busy times – again – and I’m wishing I had a clone so I could get to all the stuff I want to see.

Alas, I am still working within the limited construct of this single corporeal self and the rules of social triage dictate that I must prioritize. And some events just won’t make it.

Case in point: two friends and I took our chances on rush tickets for Soulpepper’s production of Kim’s Convenience on Monday night. Well, in the end, it was just me as neither of them could make it. I was #3 for rush tix – but the guy who was first in line scooped up the last two seats. Took a chance that they’d have some cancellations or no-shows – and spent some time starting to read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking on my new eReader – but no luck. Oh, well. At least I caught the Fringe production. Would have really liked to see it again, but personal scheduling and ticket availability being what they are, it’s not going to happen. My advice: get your seats in advance or you’ll miss out.

Luckily, I did purchase an advance ticket for Nightwood Theatre’s production of The Penelopiad – and will be off to Buddies in Bad Times to see that tonight. I also strongly advise advance ticket purchases for this.

Also coming up: adorable and talented singer/songwriter Meghan Morrison is doing a gig at Cherry Cola’s on Friday night. Definitely a good thing to come out for. Here’s Meghan’s website:

My Saturday will be filled up with a few gatherings with friends: a brunch, a dinner and a birthday party (at a pub with karaoke). And it occurred to me that I haven’t been to the movies in a while, so maybe Sunday.

Will be back with the scoop on these and any other upcoming adventures soon…


A thoroughly enjoyable evening @ Soulpepper’s Parfumerie

Got back to the theatre last night – this time, with my friend Ty – for Soulpepper’s remount of Parfumerie (by Miklós László, adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins). I missed their original 2009 production, so was hell-bent on making it out this time. We took our chances on rush tix and made it in – standing room only! We didn’t care though – the play was thoroughly enchanting and our upright positions at the rear of the orchestra were like giving the show a non-stop standing ovation, which this cast deserved big time.

This is the play that inspired the movie You’ve Got Mail, among others, and is big on fun and poignancy. Rosie (Patricia Fagan) and George (Oliver Dennis) are store clerk co-workers who can’t stand each other, but are secretly – even to themselves – in love, in a relationship based on an anonymous exchange of letters. Fantastic performances from Fagan and Dennis, whose Rosie vs. George skirmishes are by turns touchingly hilarious and adorable. George has even bigger problems on his hands, as stressed out boss owner/manager Mr. Hammerschmidt (who, in Joseph Ziegler’s very capable hands is a complex combination of sharp businessman and injured human being) has it in for him. Rounding out the Parfumerie shop gang is Arpad the apprentice/delivery boy (played with cocky boyish energy by Jeff Lillico), worry wart den mother Mr. Sipos (Michael Simpson), ladies man/cad Mr. Kadash (Kevin Bundy), sexy dreamer Miss Ratz (Maev Beaty) and the quiet cashier Miss Molnar (Brenda Robins). As Patricia Fagan notes in the Artist Note in the show’s program, this collection of misfits is a workplace family. They fight, tease, nurture, look out for each other – and have their secret crushes.

Ken MacDonald’s set is gorgeous, all swirls and curves of dark wood and dusty pink – very feminine, very sexy, very period – and Ty noted that the curves of the wood trim invoke the image of people entwined. Live music is provided by gypsy-like musicians, played by Miranda Mulholland (violin) and Mike Ross (accordion), both doubling as shop patrons, and a good portion of the cast performs an a cappella Christmas carol near the end of the play.

Parfumerie is a perfect holiday-time play to see – and it runs at the Young Centre until December 31.

Check out some of the reviews – if you’re into that sort of thing: