Fathers & sons on a journey of growth & forgiveness in the entertaining, deeply moving Métis Mutt

Native Earth Performing Arts continues its 2016-17 season of compelling Indigenous theatre with Sheldon Elter’s Métis Mutt, directed by Ron Jenkins, at Native Earth’s home in the Aki Studio.

Métis Mutt began as an eight-minute piece at NextFest 2001, inspired by teacher Ken Brown and the vocal masque style of solo show. Since then, it’s grown into a 90-minute feature, was a hit at Edmonton Fringe, subsequently adapted for high school audiences, and has toured Canada and New Zealand. The Native Earth production marks the show’s Toronto premiere.

A semi-autobiographical piece of storytelling that combines stand-up, music, monologue and multiple character vignettes, Métis Mutt is part memoir, part spirit journey. Searching for his authentic voice, a young Métis (have Indigenous, half white) man struggles with centuries-old cultural stereotypes and internalized racism as he finds his way out of a cycle of violence and self-destruction to healing and forgiveness.

Heartbreaking flashbacks to the young man’s childhood reveal a sweet boy torn between protecting his mother and younger brother, and running and hiding from his father’s drunken outbursts. A favourite of his father and thus escaping the beatings, he beats himself up for his failure to act and for being a coward. Later on, having moved away with his mother and brother, his conflicting feelings emerge in letters to his dad—love and fear, longing and confusion.

As a young man, he discovers a talent for stand-up and music, and finds chosen family on the road with his hypnotist performer friend Mark, and is later drawn to theatre school. And when years-old buried emotions erupt to the surface, he self-medicates with drugs and alcohol, and cuts himself, to numb the pain.

His thoughts turn often to his father, a troubled man who struggled with demons of his own only to find them emerging from the bottom of a bottle to turn on his family. And the death of his father becomes a turning point. Not wanting to go down that same road, the young man finds his way back to himself, finding self-awareness in his struggle for identity and self-acceptance, and forgiveness for his father.

An engaging and versatile performer, Elter deftly shifts from comedy to tragedy throughout—a hilarious and stark reminder that pain comes from laughter and laughter comes from pain. Setting the tone off the top of the show with a set of stand-up, what starts off as a good-natured, self-deprecating series of stereotypical riffs on “Indians” becomes a biting commentary on hundreds of years of oppression and racism as joking around turns to rage, and entertainment becomes condemnation. The pain is turned inside out so others can see and understand. The title Métis Mutt is both a source of laughter and pain, poking fun at identity even as it grieves the damage of racist name-calling.

From cheeky stand-up and bawdy music bits, to poignant characterizations and startling scenes of violence, Elter’s storytelling is genuine, thought-provoking and frank—finding the light and the dark spots, and ultimately unearthing hope and redemption.

With shouts to the design team: Tessa Stamp (set and lights; she’s also the production’s stage manager), T. Erin Gruber (projection) and Aaron Macri (sound). Design elements are particularly effective during the young man’s mystic healing experience, when he’s taken to a native healer after traditional medicine doesn’t help him. The semi-circle of stones that delineates the playing space, and the semi-circular dream catcher backdrop that serves as a projection screen, create a sacred space that both honours and evokes the young man’s Indigenous heritage.

Fathers and sons on a journey of growth and forgiveness in the entertaining, deeply moving Métis Mutt.

Get yourself out to the Aki Studio to see Métis Mutt, running to February 5; get your ticket info and online tix here.

Photos by Ryan Parker: Sheldon Elter

Wacky, trippy good times with stand-up, sketch, music & improv in The Dandies’ Holodeck Follies

Out at the Comedy Bar cabaret space last night for a big fun night of Star Trek-themed comedy with The Dandies and their season 5 premiere of Holodeck Follies.

Set up in a variety show format, the evening’s festivities were hosted by stand-up comic Hisham Kelati, and featured guests Northwest Passage and Leslie Hudson. The Dandies are: Chris Casselman, Danielle Cole, Alan Leightizer, Zach Mealia, Jamillah Ross, Dale and Andie Wells, and Jason Zinger (musical director).

hisham-kelati-tngHost Hisham Kelati (aka Black Riker) kicked off the night with a set, interspersing bits throughout the evening. A Star Trek fanboy himself, bits included a hilarious encounter in a bathroom during a fan convention and anecdotes about his Eritrean mother, illustrating how she’s a Klingon mom at heart.

northwest-passageSketch comedy duo Northwest Passage (Kat Letwin and Simon McCamus) served up some darkly funny—and socially apt—storytelling with a series of sketches about a Grade 1 overachiever (Letwin) and how an art class critique from her teacher (McCamus) changes her life. The far-reaching and lasting consequences of that fateful day come on funny and poignant at the same time.

leslie-hudsonSinger/songwriter Leslie Hudson is also a serious Star Trek fangirl—and she proves it with a set of soulful, blues-infused original songs inspired by the various series (included on a CD). With driving beats and heartfelt ballads, she sings of doctors, captains and strong Klingon women.

For the main event, The Dandies—who set up their characters at the top of the evening—returned to the stage for some Star Trek-themed improv. Company member Alan Leightizer schooled us on audience participation for sound effects: entrances/exits through ship doors, transporter beams and warp speed engagement.

Set on the USS Hummingbird, the crew is getting used to some new arrivals: a disgraced, demoted former Captain of the USS Albatross and his Borg colleague Nine of Ten; and an ambitious young first officer. The Hummingbird’s Captain is a fierce and unforgiving Klingon woman with a love of vintage Earth clothing and reputation for ritually killing those who displease her. And the new Commander’s attempt at ingratiating himself gets super awkward when she expects his shipment of bell bottom pants to ring.

The newly, and dubiously, promoted Doctor has no patients to practice on, so the Captain assembles an away team. Beamed down to the surface, the gang finds themselves on a planet inhabited by talking monkeys. The Captain decides to fight their leader to the death for possession of the monkey inhabitants; binge-watching the Rocky movies in preparation of the battle.

It’s silly, it’s crazy—and it’s 90 minutes of good fun Star Trek parody.

Wacky, trippy good times with stand-up, sketch, music and improv in The Dandies’ Holodeck Follies.

Holodeck Follies was a one night only show, but look out for a return of The Dandies in February and keep an eye out for them at Toronto Comicon (March 17-19).

 

Toronto Fringe preview(ish): Finding Funny

Daniel Stolfi 1

Another Toronto Fringe show I saw an earlier production of – and would highly recommend – was Daniel Stolfi’s hilarious and poignant stand-up origin story Finding Funny, which I caught in May during the 2016 Soulo Theatre Festival at Red Sandcastle Theatre. You and Me Entertainment’s production of Finding Funny runs during Fringe at St. Vladimir Theatre.

The Toronto Fringe Festival runs until July 10. Check out the Fringe website for ticket and pass info/advance purchase.

 

Hilariously scathing social satire in Jeff Cottrill’s This Album is NIT FENNY! spoken word CD

I’ve described Jeff Cottrill as a stand-up poet, his work an LOL funny mash-up of stand-up comedy and spoken word that pokes fun at individual and societal silliness – and this is in high evidence in his recent spoken word CD This Album is NIT FENNY!

This Album is NIT FENNY! features 12 tracks of original work, performed by Cottrill, with Mike Bryant joining him on two pieces. From the pointed send-up of mainstream movies and the cult of celebrity in “Pitches” and “Hallie Berry,” to extremist left-wing politics and activist posers in “How to Become a Deranged Leftist Reactionary” and “IAmSoOffended?” to Darwin Award-winning stupidity in “Safety Instructions” (one of my personal faves) and “Politics” – this is spoken word that neither suffers fools nor pities them.

Cottrill’s work has not been without controversy. He’s been accused of being offensive, and that he makes fun of social awareness, left-wing activists and feminists. Everyone’s entitled to his/her own opinion. I’ve seen him perform several times, including bits from this record, and my take is that what he’s making fun of is stupidity, extremism and intolerance. Basically, Cottrill is pointing out that anyone can be a jackass – which means we’re all capable of jackassery. And his tongue-in-cheek stand-up delivery results in performances that stay clear of mean-spiritedness.

Cottrill even sends up his own acquaintances, as well as himself, in the hysterical build up of bullshit excuses from a guy who claims he won’t be able to see a friend’s show in “The Jim Show,” and the sarcastic praise (from a female point of view) to his own personal quirks and shortcomings in “Dreamboat” (which I’d love to hear Dame Helen Mirren read sometime).

NITFENNY_FrontBack_01Jeff Cottrill’s This Album is NIT FENNY! is hilariously scathing social satire delivered via spoken word – and no form of wackjobbery is safe, no matter how well-intentioned.

You can catch Cottrill in and around Toronto at various poetry/spoken word events and open mics, including Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir; you can check out upcoming events here. You can also keep up with Cottrill’s shenanigans on Twitter and Facebook, and various other links.

Toronto Fringe: The lighter side of the Autism Spectrum in Aspergers: A Tale of a Social Misfit

Poster design: Cory Falvo
Poster design: Cory Falvo

My last show at this year’s Toronto Fringe took me back to the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room for Autistic Productions’ run of Adam Schwartz’s Aspergers: A Tale of a Social Misfit.

Highly entertaining, this is stand-up delivered from the point of view of someone on the Autism Spectrum. From coming to terms with his diagnosis as a kid – and school bullying and exclusion – to dealing with the challenges of being a socially awkward adult and struggling with meeting women, Schwartz delivers funny and insightful observations about the perceptions of someone living with autism, as well as the rules of engagement he lives by. Taking experiences of losses and wins, and turning them into bits, Schwartz really connects with the audience, making us laugh – and also gently educating us at the same time.

The lighter side of the Autism Spectrum in hilarious, informative stand-up show Aspergers: A Tale of a Social Misfit.

Aspergers: A Tale of a Social Misfit closed yesterday (as did the Toronto Fringe), but keep an eye out for Adam Schwartz. You can also follow Autistic Productions on Twitter.

Also be sure to check out The Best of the Fringe 2015, running July 15-29 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Toronto Fringe: Dark times become comic fodder as stand-up meets storytelling in hilarious A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare

a_nurses_worst_nightmare-web-250x250Saw another highly entertaining, and thought-provoking, solo show at Toronto Fringe yesterday: Zabrina Chevannes’s A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare at the Theatre Passe Muraille TPM) Backspace. I missed this show when it featured in the 2015 Soulo Theatre Festival in May, so was very happy to catch it on the Fringe program before I was totally booked up.

It’s a lemonade from lemons tale of taking some unhappy – and at times dark and desperate – circumstances (like Chevannes’s Jamaican dad does when her older brother lands in a Mexican prison – he learned Spanish!) and turning it into comedy. A married single mom (whose husband is little to no help, and struggling with perceptions of reality), Chevannes works as a nurse at a nursing home – and when she’s not dealing with advances from handsy old men, she’s coming up with hysterically imaginative explanations for her two young kids about the Tooth Fairy and menstruation. The nightmare comes in her struggles with her husband’s mental illness, navigating his increasingly dangerous delusional, paranoid behaviour while trying to help him and keep it all together at home.

Dark times become comic fodder as stand-up meets storytelling in the hilarious autobiographical solo show A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare.

Bad news: A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare closed yesterday. Good news: Chevannes is a local GTA gal (from Brampton), so keep an eye out for future performances, including the comedy show Things Black Girls Say.

Toronto Fringe NSTF: Big fun with a phonebook in Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook

Graham-Clark-Reads-the-Phonebook-e1414680352647-250x222Confession: In theory, I’m not really into theatre pieces about people sitting around doing inane everyday things. But the title Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook caught my attention – and the fact that the show is based in stand-up comedy sealed the deal for me.

So I went to see Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook at the Next Stage Theatre Festival up in the Factory Theatre Antechamber last night.

In 30 minutes, Graham Clark takes us through a brief history of how the piece came to be and how he acquired the phonebook he uses in the show, gives us some phonebook trivia, and goes on to share personal anecdotes and ruminations – and engages the audience in some easy-going participation. Weird stuff about the phonebook that you never really thought about before. And in between LOLs, you’re going “Huh.”

Added bonus: The pre-show soundtrack includes some head-boppin’, toe-tappin’ telephone-themed tunes from the likes of Lady Gaga, as well as oldies like “Mr. Telephone Man.”

Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook is the most fun you’ll ever have with a dude and a phonebook.

Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook runs until Sun, Jan 18 – and includes a talkback after the Sun, Jan 11 show at The Hoxton. Seating in the Antechamber is limited, so best to book online or get to the box office early.