Dangerous desires, conflicting memories & a questionable verdict in Village Players’ dark, haunting Tainted Justice

Katherine Anne Fairfoul, Chris O’Bray & Rob McMullan. Set design by Alexis Chub. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by Dave A. Fitzpatrick.

 

Did an American drifter or family secrets kill the town innkeeper? The Village Players opened their production of Don Nigro’s Tainted Justice, directed by Victoria Shepherd, at their home in the Village Playhouse last night.

Set mostly in 1914 Cape Breton, Tainted Justice criss-crosses time and space, taking us through memory and past events to such varied places as the Klondike and Winnipeg in the years leading up to 1914. Estranged from her mother Tena (Katherine Anne Fairfoul) and uncle Bill (Rob Candy), Pearl (Jess L. Callaghan) returns home to Cape Breton looking for answers. Haunted by the events surrounding her innkeeper father Ben’s (Dennis Mockler) death, Pearl is determined to learn the truth—especially regarding evidence brought to light during the subsequent trial against the inn’s American guest Frank (Chris O’Bray), who was defended by Pearl’s cousin Jim (Andrew Batten), a local celebrity lawyer. Frank was found guilty and executed. What was the nature of her mother’s relationship with the accused? And who was really responsible for her father’s death?

Through a series of conversations, moments and witness stand testimony, we learn that Frank wasn’t a stranger to Bill or Tena when he arrived in Cape Breton. But there are conflicting accounts of when and where they met him—and the coincidences of Frank just happening to meet up with them in various locations across the U.S. and Canada are dubious to say the least. As the story unfolds, we see a seedy, dark underbelly emerge among this close-knit family in this quiet town—revealing hidden suspicions, and hinting at forbidden relationships and dangerous desires. Only Jim’s quiet, sweet wife Maudie (Peta Mary Bailey) and the calm, steady Crown prosecutor Hearn (Rob McMullan) seem to be immune from the dark influences of lust and family loyalty at all costs.

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Andrew Batten & Peta Mary Bailey. Set design by Alexis Chub. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by Dave A. Fitzpatrick.

This play has everything: greed, lust, murder, family secrets. And Shepherd and the cast do a great job weaving past and present, memory and dream, and complex relationships in this true Canadian crime drama. Stand-outs include Batten’s cocky but amiable Jim; a gifted defender and eloquent orator, Jim’s drinking habit and laissez-faire approach to life mask a deeply troubled soul. O’Bray does a lovely job, both charming us and keeping us guessing about Frank; a mercurial, cheeky and well-read man with a flair for storytelling, Frank is a teller of tall tales at best and a con man at worst. A drifter and opportunist with a non-violent criminal record and at least four wives back in the States, like Jim says, Frank’s not the kind of guy you’d want marrying your sister. But is he a murderer?

Fairfoul’s Tena is a seductive cypher, also keeping us on our toes. Intelligent and beautiful, Tena is an ambitious businesswoman whose deepest desires run beyond real estate. There’s an edgy desperate housewife vibe and a dark air mystery about her. Did she bewitch Frank into doing her bidding? And Candy’s Bill is a complex combination of affable generosity and raging jealousy. Bill clearly loves his sister Tena very much and would do anything for her, including introducing her to the man who would become her husband (the murdered innkeeper Ben). But what exactly is the nature of that relationship—and are those feelings mutual?

With shouts to the design team for their work on bringing the past and present worlds of this haunting period crime drama to life on the small Village Playhouse stage: Alexis Chubb (set), Livia Pravato-Fuchs (costume), Jamie Sample (lighting) and John Stuart Campbell (sound and music composition). And to director Shepherd for orchestrating the multiple interwoven scenes and relationships as the characters traverse time and place.

Tainted Justice continues at the Village Playhouse until March 24. Advance tickets available online or by calling 416-767-7702. In the meantime, be sure to check out the promo video on the show page, featuring director Victoria Shepherd.

 

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An exclusive murder mystery weekend gets real in the darkly funny, surprising A Party to Murder

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Clockwise from bottom: Trevor Cartlidge, Liam Doherty, Lawrie Hopkinson, Haley Vincent, Michael Hunter & Madeleine Spadafora in A Party to Murder – photo by Dave Fitzpatrick

You are cordially invited to an exclusive murder mystery weekend this Halloween at a secluded upscale cottage at a secret location.

The Village Players are currently running A Party to Murder, by Douglas E. Hughes and Marcia Kash, directed by Rob Woodcock, at their home the Village Playhouse (Bloor St. West, a bit east of Runnymede). It’s the second show of their all-Canadian season; I caught yesterday’s matinee.

We open on a melodramatic Agatha Christie-esque scene of whodunnit, part of a by invitation only game hosted by mystery novelist Charles (Liam Doherty) at Hadfield House, his lush cottage retreat on a private island on Cassandra Lakes, Ontario. The area, we learn, is infamous for its ties to the mysterious case of the Phantom Five, five business titans who went missing 25 years ago.

Among Charles’ guests are business mogul Elwood (Michael Hunter) and his much younger companion McKenzie (Madeleine Spadafora); Valerie (Lawrie Hopkinson) and Henri (Haley Vincent), sisters who’ve inherited their family utility business; and former football star Willy (Trevor Cartlidge), now confined to a wheel chair after a car accident.

The one who guesses the murderer wins a lavish prize, furnished via the sizeable entry free all guests are required to pay. When Elwood is pronounced the winner and decides to exact a favour from each of the others, things get tense and interesting – especially when Elwood turns up dead soon after.

Now faced with an actual murder mystery, the group is stuck on the island with no phone or cell service; they must wait until the water taxi returns to pick them up the next day. And when a journal linking the cottage to the Phantom Five is discovered and a second member of the group drops dead, the stakes get even higher.

Like the novelist host in the play, A Party to Murder is inspired by the works of Agatha Christie (who receives homage via the large photograph featured prominently on the upstage wall) – full of twists, turns and surprises. And loads of whodunnit fun.

Really nice work from the cast in this exciting tale of intrigue and murder. Doherty gives British expat Charles a dry, Coward-esque wit. A novelist of some repute and a sharp observer of human behaviour, he’s an extremely affable host, arranging everything himself, including cooking the gourmet meals. While we first see her as the humble housemaid in the mystery role play, Hopkinson gives Valerie a decidedly dragon lady edge; a powerful CEO with a shrewd business mind and a wry wit. Vincent’s Henri is the polar opposite of Valerie, with some interesting layers; anxious and wary, there’s an inquisitive mind and a drive for the truth under that submissive exterior. And her role play medium character has hilarious hints of Madame Arcati.

As Elwood, Hunter brings a self-satisfied, near sociopathic, sense of entitlement and aloofness; a jealous, possessive man with a quick temper, he relishes his power over others. Spadafora’s McKenzie is a great combination of lady of leisure and survivor; a professional model and personal ornament to Elwood, her life isn’t as fairytale as it appears. And Cartlidge’s Willy may be a cocky, wise-cracking jock, but his intensely negative reaction to the prospect of being under Elwood’s thumb gives pause, as does his ongoing gallows humour.

One gets the feeling that everyone has a secret – but is it a lethal one?

With big shouts to the design team for the gorgeous environment and atmospheric effects, complete with a secret passage, a storm, flickering lights and fabulous outfits: Katherine Bignell-Jones (set), Sue Gilck (sound), Dustin Woods-Turner (lighting), Rosemary McGillivray (props) and Jennifer Newnham (costumes).

An exclusive murder mystery weekend gets real in the darkly funny, surprising A Party to Murder. My friends and I had a great time.

Party to Murder continues at the Village Playhouse until Nov 26; check here for full performance date/time info. Tickets can also be purchased 45 minutes before curtain time at the box office; or you can call to reserve: 416-767-7702.

You can keep up with the Village Players on Twitter and Facebook.

Witch hunt meets climate change conspiracy in Village Playhouse’s haunting, dystopic Foxfinder

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Michael Pearson, with Holly Easton & Bronson Lake in shadow, in Foxfinder – photo by Erin Jones

The time is the present. The world is not quite the same as the one in which you and I live.      Foxfinder program note

The Village Playhouse opened its production of Dawn King’s Foxfinder last week, a Canadian premiere directed by Nicole Arends.

A hard rainstorm threatens the Covey farm’s already compromised crop quota for the year. And adding to the Covey’s distress is the impending arrival of a man sent to audit, assess and judge the conditions on the farm – and their fitness to run it – and they’ll be playing host to him for the duration.

Foxfinder is set in a present-day reality in which society runs with bygone methods of farm and factory production – and where the governing authority micromanages it all. Weather patterns have been changing, threatening food production and the very survival of civilization. This is a world of suspicion, superstition and right wing-style religious fervor over the land and its protection. And the fox has become the demonized scapegoat, to blame for everything from failed crops to the evil that men do.

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Holly Easton & Michael Pearson – photo by Erin Jones

The four-person cast does a nice job of bringing this world to life. Bronson Lake gives a strong, brooding performance as Samuel Covey, a good, hard-working farmer, and man of few words and no complaint as he struggles with damaging weather and family tragedy. Beneath his solid character is a man desperate for reasons and answers. As Samuel’s anxious young wife Judith, Holly Easton is the heart of the family-run farm; an equal to her husband, and lost and mourning in her own way even as she strives to carry on with growing their crops and their family. Michael Pearson brings an eerie, cold calm to William Bloor, the rookie Foxfinder sent to assess the Covey farm; an earnest, formal and fastidious young man, he too is conflicted – committed to doing his duty while struggling with inner demons of his own. Naomi Peltz brings a wry-witted warmth to the cynical Sarah Box, the Covey’s neighbour and Judith’s best friend; pragmatic and suspicious, she too has some hard decisions to make.

Foxfinder is an interesting – not to mention intense and spooky – exploration of how the human need and desire for reasons and meaning can be manipulated by the powers that be to control society through the systemic and dangerous assignment of culpability and blame.

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Naomi Peltz with Michael Pearson in the background – photo by Erin Jones

With big shouts to Arends (with Gilles Gagnon and Dustin Woods-Turner) for the beautifully wrought and evocative sound and projected image (with Fotini Paraschos) design. The imaginative and effective staging includes an upstage screen, which is used for both projected images of the farm and its environment, and to present bedroom scenes, where the characters are shown in backlit silhouette.

Witch hunt meets climate change conspiracy in the Village Playhouse’s haunting, dystopic Foxfinder.

Foxfinder continues at the Village Playhouse until March 19; check here for full performance date/time info. Tickets can be purchased 45 minutes before curtain time at the box office; or you can call ahead to reserve: 416-767-7702.

Secrets, schemes & stamps in sharp & darkly funny Mauritius

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Derek Perks (foreground), with Douglas Tindal & Rebecca De La Cour in Mauritius – photo by Bill Michelson

Sometimes a stamp isn’t just a stamp.

A pair of rare postage stamps becomes a catalyst for hopes, dreams and desires in The Village Players’ production of Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, directed by Michael Hiller, which opened at the Village Playhouse last night.

Estranged step-sisters Jackie (Rebecca De La Cour) and Mary (Tina McCulloch) are reunited following the death of their mother, and discover Mary’s grandfather’s stamp collection as they sort through their mother’s things. The two have very different perspectives of both the stamps’ ownership and destiny. When Rebecca’s attempt to get the stamps appraised is rebuffed by the owner/operator of Phil’s stamp shop (Douglas Tindal), Phil’s friend Dennis (Derek Perks) comes to her assistance. He finds the collection extremely interesting – interesting enough to contact the wealthy and shady Sterling (Robert Woodcock), an extreme stamp aficionado, to broker a deal.

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Derek Perks & Robert Woodcock – photo by Bill Michelson

The Mauritius script has a Walker meets Mamet flavour – and the cast does an effing nice job of it. Tindal is dishevelled and Sphinx-like as stamp expert Phil; his shop, like its owner, is frozen in time (somewhere around the 70s) and understated in its seediness (set by Nadia Dziubaniwsky). Perks is delightfully wiry and wily as the fast-talking, likeable scoundrel Dennis; a smooth operator, and adept at sizing up people and situations, there’s more to Dennis than meets the eye. De La Cour’s Jackie is a tough cookie; assertive and brave, yet full of hurt and longing – and grasping at hope – under that brash exterior. Woodcock is a remarkable presence as Sterling; physically, psychologically and intellectually menacing, with a soft underbelly invoked by the stamps, his object of obsession and desire. And McCulloch brings some nice, complex layers of propriety, nostalgia and fierceness to Mary, who is deeply conflicted within her family dynamic and personal attachment to her grandfather’s stamp collection.

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Tina McCulloch & Rebecca De La Cour – photo by Bill Michelson

Each character’s response to the stamps reveals what he/she values: money, freedom, history, possession and legacy.

Secrets, schemes and stamps in The Village Players’ sharp and darkly funny Mauritius.

Mauritius continues at the Village until Jan 30; show dates/times and ticket info here. You can keep up with the Village Players’ goings-on on Twitter and Facebook.

Delightful comedy ensues as scandal & chaos erupt in a good English country home in Mr. Pim Passes By

Madeleine Kane & Steve Ness in Mr. Pim Passes By - photo by Jennifer Etches
Madeleine Kane & Steve Ness in Mr. Pim Passes By – photo by Jennifer Etches

Was out at the Village Playhouse last night to see the Village Players’ production of Mr. Pim Passes By, by A.A. Milne (yep, the one who wrote the Winnie the Pooh stories), directed by Barbara Larose, assisted by Ellen Green.

In her director’s notes, Larose describes the play as “a comic charmer filled with innocence and irony” – and she and a fine cast deliver on this assertion big time as the relative peace and quiet of George Marden’s (Rob Candy) country home in Buckinghamshire is set at sixes and sevens after some disturbing news from a visitor. The visitor, Mr. Pim (Steve Ness), passes along some news that could have a disastrous impact on George and Olive’s (Kathleen Jackson Allamby) marriage. Meanwhile, all George’s niece and ward Dinah (Madeleine Kane) wants to do is marry socialist artist Brian Strange (Daniel Carter), but George forbids it on the grounds of their youth, as well as Brian’s occupation and politics – and the young couple has joined forces with Olive to get George to reconsider.

Ness gives the unassuming Mr. Pim a nice befuddled and affable quality, not unlike Milne’s most beloved character Pooh. Kane is an adorably precocious and energetic chatterbox as Dinah, and has a sweet, playful chemistry with Carter’s charming and passionate abstract painter Brian. Candy’s George is comically stubborn, proper and set in his ways – not a bad or particularly harsh man, just an old-fashioned patriarch struggling with progress. Jackson Allamby is lovely as the modern, forward-thinking and infinitely patient Olive, who is artful but not conniving in her dealings with George’s obstinacy. And Barbara Salsberg’s Lady Julia Marden is the perfect picture of an imperious older aunt, commanding both respect and familial fear, but essentially sensible and pragmatic in action.

Rob Candy & Kathleen Jackson Allamby in Mr. Pim Passes By - photo by Jennifer Etches
Rob Candy & Kathleen Jackson Allamby in Mr. Pim Passes By – photo by Jennifer Etches

Add to that some good fun comic turns by the two maids – Shobha Hatte’s prim, stern and all-seeing Anne, and ASM Laura Conway as the younger, cheeky maid – and you have an all-around good time.

With shouts to the design team for their work in creating this idyllic 1919 morning-room world in the English countryside: Steve Minnie (set), Theresa Arneaud (costumes), John Cabanela (lighting) and Rick Jones (sound), with the talents of Kyra Millan on piano. And, as always, to Margot “Mom” Devlin, the intrepid SM/lighting op who keeps it all together and running smoothly.

Delightful comedy ensues as scandal and chaos erupt in a good English country home in Mr. Pim Passes By.

Mr. Pim Passes By continues its run at the Village Playhouse until October 3 – check here for scheduling and tickets.

Life, love & loss in a funny & touching family reunion – Marion Bridge @ Village Playhouse

MB_PosterDropped by the Village Playhouse on Sunday afternoon to see the Village Players’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge, directed by Greg Nowlan.

Three sisters reunite at their Cape Breton family home to be with their dying divorced mother: Agnes, a struggling actress who’s been living in Toronto; Theresa, a nun whose order runs a farm in New Brunswick; and Louise, who stayed at home. Family history and present-day challenges converge in this funny, touching play – told with humour, honesty and heart.

Returning to the stage after a 10-year absence, Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt gives an outstanding performance as the fiery, strong-willed – and at times petulant – oldest sister Agnes, the “unconventional girl” in the family, struggling with alcohol and an acting career that’s going nowhere and leaving her broke. Lorene Stanwick does a lovely job with Theresa, the cool-headed, responsible middle sister, a wry-witted and sensitive nun facing personal trials of her own. And Anne van Leeuwen is delightful as the “strange” youngest sister Louise, child-like, straight-talking and longing to belong. All three actors do a stand-up job of capturing the sibling dynamic, at times shifting into childish interaction, the sisters’ individual roles in the family set long ago. All three sisters are lost, searching and bracing themselves for the coming loss.

Kudos to voice-over performers Erin Jones and David Borwick for their portrayals of Kara and Justin, two characters from the fictitious soap Ryan’s Cove, a favourite TV show of Louise’s that becomes a sibling diversion.

Marion Bridge is nicely staged on a minimalist kitchen set (designed by Steve Minnie) that evokes the place, and lets the actors and action take prominence – and filled with a beautiful, lyrical regional soundtrack (designed by Richard Green), including, of course, “Song for the Mira” at the end of the play.

Life, love and loss with three feisty Cape Breton sisters – the Village Players’ Marion Bridge is a lovely bit of storytelling.

Marion Bridge continues its run at the Village Playhouse this week Wed – Sat (closing Mar 22). Sunday was sold out, so I’d book ahead if I were you: 416-767-7102.

Happy holidays!

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My wee Xmas tree, lit up in the dark.

Hi all –

It’s full-on holiday hustle and bustle, with gatherings and errands galore! Wanted to send out a quick note to say that I’m still here, I just needed to take care of a few things, which left me no time to post over the past little while. Hope you’ve been enjoying the reblogging of some other fabulous bloggers in the meantime.

Here’s what I’ve been up to (in addition to the f/t office job as a copy editor, which has been super busy the past couple of weeks, and some fabulous holiday gatherings, and arts and culture):

Rehearsing and reading in Siobhán Dungan’s radio comedy The Receptionist, which featured 8 actors reading 120 characters, and a violinist – we did that on Dec 6 at Innis Town Hall and had a blast!

Auditioning for the Village Players’ upcoming production of Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge (directed by Greg Nowlan, running Feb 28 – Mar 22). I made it to callbacks and didn’t get cast, but really looking forward to seeing this.

I’ve been working as a scenic artist with set designer Ed Rosing on Alumnae Theatre’s upcoming production of Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning (directed by Jane Carnwath, running Jan 24 – Feb 8 on the mainstage).

Seeing amazing arts events like The Gay Heritage Project (Buddies In Bad Times), Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (The Central) and Lizzie Violet’s Poetry Open Mic (Amsterdam Bicycle Club).

Coming up soon:

The great pleasure of a photo shoot with Lisa MacIntosh on Saturday.

I’ll also finally be doing an interview with writer/poet/editor/horror aficionado and cabaret mistress extraordinaire Lizzie Violet.

And, of course, we’re now a week away from Christmas Eve, so the countdown is on!

Happy holidays, all! xo