Toronto Fringe: Hell hath no fury like these two women in Rarely Pure Theatre’s Valkyrie

valkyrie_.web_-250x250Rarely Pure Theatre has a reputation for producing dark, edgy and thought-provoking pieces – and its Toronto Fringe production of Thomas McKechnie’s Valkyrie, directed by Bruce Gooch, is no exception.

BFF gal pals Bradley (Monique Renaud) and Erin (Katie Ribout) have transformed themselves into knife-wielding, gun-toting, Krav Maga-practising avengers, Valkyries on the hunt to exact furious vengeance on faithless men who cheat on their wives. But their latest target (Spencer Robson) is markedly different from the others.

As the Valkyries, Renaud and Ribout are fierce and fearless, merciless in their violent pursuit of retribution. Renaud’s Bradley is like a pacing tigress waiting for the cage to be opened so she can gladly tear out the throat of her prey. Ribout’s Erin is the brains – the alpha, it turns out – of the operation, measured and calculating, and keeping her friend on a leash until it’s go time. Robson is devilishly charming, vulgar and dangerously seductive as their intended victim, whose presence has an unexpected effect.

In the face of such extreme violence – done in the name of justice, but really about personal empowerment – Valkyrie leaves questions:
Are the Valkyries in this play avenging angels or crazed pseudo-vigil antes?
Why does Erin agree to continue their project when it’s clear that Bradley could so easily lose her shit?
Does the punishment fit the crime?

Valkyrie is an intensely dark, raw and disturbing look at how far people will go to regain power and control over their lives.

Valkyrie continues at the Tarragon Extra Space until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times. I highly recommend purchasing your tix in advance, as last night’s show was jam-packed.

 

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Ribald, rustic taste of the wrath of love in Rarely Pure Theatre’s As You Like It

From the lobby of Storefront Theatre, you can hear the haunting, lyrical and hypnotic sounds of layered FX guitar music. Inside the theatre space, the minimalist set is woodsy, sparse, cold. Branches hang from the ceiling and short sticks of trees sprout from the floor, cradled in snow drifts at the base. Tree stumps, hay bales and driftwood add to the rustic atmosphere. This is the world of Rarely Pure Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Rosanna Saracino.

The extremely talented and raucous young cast digs into this charming, but chilly, pastoral comedy with gusto – the passion, love and hate have equal bite in this tale of betrayal, loss, love and redemption. Stand-outs include Christina Bryson as Rosalind (also assistant producer), who gives a lovely turn as the young woman who must disguise herself as a boy even as she grapples with the conflicting emotions of mourning for a father banished and revelling in the pangs of new love. Katie Ribout’s Cecilia is adorably sweet and loyal as Rosalind’s cousin/BFF, herself struggling with harsh circumstance of a father who’s usurped her uncle and subsequently banished Rosalind, forcing her to choose her friend over her father. Spenser Robson (also Co-Artistic Director and Producer) does a nice job of balancing Orlando’s passion and strength of conviction over his own family situation and his tongue-tied, lovelorn response to Rosalind. Benjamin Blais is roaring good fun as the bawdy, wise Fool Touchstone, and Michael Hogan is deliciously maudlin and philosophical as the anomie-filled, aimless courtier Jacques.

This is love, hard and chilly, but also tender and hot – much like Ganymed’s portrayal of Rosalind. All in all, a ribald and rustic taste of the wrath of love.

Take a look at the As You Like It trailer, featuring Christina Bryson, Katie Ribout and Ben Blais.

As You Like It continues its run at Storefront Theatre until January 26.

Do you know The Pillowman?

When I enter the intimate space of the Propeller Gallery, it is filled with a couple of rows of chairs facing a minimalist playing space (set designed by Tracy Lam, who also designed costumes and props). A table, a file cabinet, a couple of chairs. Three metal frame-encased light bulbs hang from the ceiling. Stage right, there is a projection screen, currently blank.  The works of six local artists,* created specifically for the production, hang on the white upstage wall. The images are beautiful, freakish, violent and nightmarish – each bordered and connected to some of the others with black tape. Like a homicide detective’s whiteboard. Or a bizarre family tree. Relationships. Causality. Connections.

This is opening night of Rarely Pure Theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, directed by Ryan Quinn. As with McDonagh’s other works (The Lonesome West and the film In Bruges), this play is not for the faint-hearted. And in this space, the action is even more up close and personal, drawing the audience in even as it repels.

Katurian (Chris George) is a writer of strange, wondrous and often grotesque stories –  many involving young children in macabre fairy tales that would make the Grimm boys blanch. He is also in police custody in a totalitarian dictatorship – blindfolded when we first see him – with no idea why he’s there. Detectives Tupolski (Davydd Cook) and Ariel (Spencer Robson, also one of the company’s ADs and producer for this show) interrogate Katurian, who soon learns that his intellectually challenged older brother Michal (David DiFrancesco) is also in custody. Two children have been found murdered and a third (Maria – Maya Kawale) is missing, presumed dead. If the brothers are found guilty, the police have the power to go straight to execution. No trial. No jail time.

Twists and turns abound in this  deeply disturbing, moving and brutally funny play. Quinn and his cast have done a marvelous job of mining these characters, presenting the multiple facets of each, ever aware of how high the stakes. No one is as he seems at first – and any notion of good cop/bad cop, hero/villain, innocent/guilty are turned upside down as the action progresses. As the protagonist Katurian, George is especially remarkable, displaying an extraordinary range of vulnerability, strength and emotion in a single performance. Each character holds strong convictions – and when they clash, it is both terrible and thought-provoking to behold. Intimidation, torture, wordplay and storytelling share the stage in this gripping and moving drama. The stage right screen I mentioned earlier is put to good use, with projected illustrations (by Lauren Dobbie) of Katurian’s stories appearing as he narrates them — like the stories, both lyrical and terrible. And Katurian’s fight to save his art rivals that of his fight to save himself or his brother.

*Shouts, too, to the contributing artists, whose work is available for sale (speak with the box office folks): Mike Ellis, Tiffany Huta, Jennifer Ilett, Emily Kouri, Suharu Ogawa and Tyler Tilley.

The Pillowman runs just till March 3 at the Propeller Gallery – and seating is limited – so I’d strongly suggest booking in advance at TicketBreak. Go see this.