Top 10 theatre 2016

Hope everyone’s been enjoying the holiday season. As we say goodbye to 2016 (for better or worse), it’s time for the annual top 10 theatre list. As usual, this is always a challenging endeavour, so I’ve added a few honourable mentions (in alphabetical order):

Top 10 theatre 2016

Blind Date (queer version): Spontaneous Theatre & Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Chasse-Galerie: Kabin, Storefront Theatre & Soulpepper

Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen: Theatre 20, The Firehall Arts Centre & Theatre Passe Muraille

The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy: Eldritch Theatre

The Hogtown Experience: The Hogtown Collective & Campbell House Museum

Late Night: Theatre Brouhaha & Zoomer LIVE Theatre

Mouthpiece: Quote Unquote Collective & Nightwood Theatre

The Queen’s Conjuror: Circlesnake Productions

She Mami Wata and the Pussy Witchhunt: The Watah Theatre

The Summoned: Tarragon Theatre

Honourable mention

The Clergy Project:  SOULO Theatre

Killer Joe: Coal Mine Theatre

The Taming of the Shrew: Driftwood Theatre Group

Three Men in a Boat: Pea Green Theatre

Up next: The Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF), running January 4 – 15, 2017 at Factory Theatre.

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Funny as hell & sh*t gets real in the socially sharp, outrageously funny Late Night

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Kat Letwin & Alon Nashman in Late Night – photos by John Gundy

Moses Znaimer and Kat Sandler have teamed up for Zoomer LIVE Theatre’s inaugural production, the debut of Sandler’s Late Night (winner of Toronto Fringe 24-hour playwriting contest), currently running in ZoomerHall – a new space that will serve as a launch pad for intimate, multi-media indie productions. Located in a Liberty Village complex that’s also home to ZoomerMedia, ZoomerHall is part of ZoomerPlex (70 Jefferson Ave., Toronto), a multi-media production and event space.

Directed by Sandler, and produced in partnership with Theatre Brouhaha, Late Night opened on Thanksgiving weekend; I caught the show last night. As we enter the space, we’re greeted by the painfully shy intern Davey (Michael Misu), and a couple of audience members are invited to ask Marty some pre-programmed questions.

After 22 years hosting The Early Late Show, Marty O’Malley (Alon Nashman) is leaving the chair to young, fresh comic talent Sarah Goldberg (Kat Letwin), with a surprise reveal planned in his final show, broadcast live for the first time in the show’s history.

When the running order of the guests has to be changed, the reveal comes early. And when Sarah makes a joke about her and Marty, all hell breaks loose, exploding on social media and forcing longstanding exec producer Alanna (Maria Vacratsis) into emergency measures to appease a titillated and scandalized audience, and a confused bunch of network execs, pushing Sarah into a co-host position for the remainder of the show.

And when Sarah and Marty crack open Marty’s retirement present and begin chatting with guest Kevin Lee Hicks (Nigel Downer), things get really crazy – and the crazy gets turned up to 11 when Marty’s actress wife Vivienne Lawrence (Rachel Jones) shows up.

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Michael Misu, Maria Vacratsis & Rachel Jones in Late Night

Sandler’s script goes for the jugular, hitting all the nasty facets of show business: ageism, sexism, racism, sizeism, homophobia and the myth of heteronormative, traditional relationships; not to mention sex scandals and the exploitation of disease-battling kids turned celebrities. The main event here is Boomer versus Millennial, and she’s got an outstanding, kick-ass ensemble for this wild and wacky ride – all nicely balancing the funny with the real.

Nashman hits all the notes as Marty; classic inappropriate Boomer white guy, in the tradition of Letterman, O’Malley is magnanimous an even a bit verklempt on camera as he bids farewell to a job he loves. Nashman provides some nice layers of hurt and bitter, as O’Malley’s external calm collapses into rage. As Millennial comic Sarah, Letwin is a natural-born smart-ass; she does a really nice job mining the conflicting emotions of this moment for Sarah, who’s thrilled to be taking over the show and scared to death at the same time. She’s made a name for herself as an unashamed and out there comedienne, and masks her discomfort with an irreverent bravado. Vacratsis is a scary delight as Alanna; a hilarious combination of cheerleader and dragon lady, she’s been with the show for years and will do whatever it takes to keep it alive. Musi is adorkably funny as the socially awkward intern Davey; forced out of his comfort zone on a number of occasions, his reward is the care and feeding of Vivienne, who he goes fan boy gaga over.

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Nigel Downer & Rachel Jones in Late Night

Downer is entertaining and compelling as actor Kevin Lee Hicks; a gay black man who’s come to fame by playing cool grandma Mama Jones (who we also get to meet) on the big screen, Hicks is unapologetic, sharp-witted, resourceful and opportunistic. Jones is both a laugh riot and deeply poignant as Vivienne Lawrence; an actress in her mid-forties now relegated to mom roles, she’s struggling with her career and her marriage, and gutted that her kids get drawn into the gossip about her and Marty.

ZoomerHall is the perfect venue for this production. The studio audience sound stage set takes Late Night beyond site-specific and into immersive theatre, complete with cameras and live video monitors.

Funny as hell and shit gets real in the socially sharp, outrageously funny Late Night. My ass was laughed off. Get yourself on over to ZoomerHall to see this

Late Night continues at ZoomerHall until October 23. Check out show dates and get your advance tix online.

Toronto Fringe: Do you want to believe? Sharp, dark comedy in Bright Lights

 

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Theatre Brouhaha’s production of Kat Sandler’s Bright Lights opened to a sold out house of super enthusiastic folks at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace late last night.

Written and directed by Sandler, Bright Lights is set in a community centre, where members of the Alien Experience Support Group gather for their regular meeting to share their experiences of alien encounters in a safe, supportive space. The arrival of newcomer Zoe (Heather Marie Annis) shakes the group to its foundations; her abduction memory includes group organizer Ross (Colin Munch) – and his true identity and motive for forming the group come into question.

The action is fast-paced, and the storytelling is equal parts hilariously funny and darkly edgy; collegial turns combative as the heat gets turned up. Sandler’s outstanding cast is laser-focused and mercurial, weaving tight comedy with fringe society paranoia – and features the creative forces behind Punch Up, Morro and Jasp, Peter n’ Chris and Shakey-Shake & Friends.

Amy Lee is delightfully kooky as the group’s snack baking den mother Laurel; earthy and nurturing, she’s pregnant by a man who isn’t her husband and describes her abduction in terms of a classic rock song. As Zoe, Annis brings a bright-eyed sense of curiosity and tightly wound nerves as she steps into this strange world of those who believe. Peter Carlone is hilariously paranoid as Dave, who’s turned survivalist after suffering multiple probings, a family tradition; dressed in militia gear, he carries a duffle bag of weapons at all times – just in case. Equally hilarious is Chris Wilson’s Wayne; a former child actor who starred in a legal procedural TV show, he fancies himself a legal expert and claims to have been gifted psychic powers during his abduction experience. (Carlone and Wilson are also performing Peter vs. Chris at this year’s Toronto Fringe). Munch gives Ross an affable, welcoming vibe and keeps us guessing as he reacts to the group’s accusations against Ross’s humanity and intentions; Ross has definitely been hiding something.

The only thing for certain is that the dynamic of this group is permanently altered during this meeting – with suspicions, theories and alliances unfolding in unexpected ways. And, in the end, you’re asking yourself: What and who do you believe?

Do you want to believe? Alien abduction, conspiracy theory and suspicion in sharp, darkly funny Bright Lights.

Bright Lights continues at the Tarragon Mainspace until July 9; advance booking for this one is strongly recommended. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: Punch drunk with laughter in Theatre Brouhaha’s Punch Up

_r1a6215Kat Sandler and Theatre Brouhaha bring it again big time with the dark comedy Punch Up, written and directed by Sandler, playing now at the George Ignatieff Theatre as part of this year’s Toronto Fringe.

Stand-up comic/comedy writer Pat’s (Colin Munch) life is in the toilet, his wife/comedy team partner has left him and is now starring on a hit TV show using their material – which he wrote! And his stand-up act sucks. Then, he gets kidnapped by lonely guy Duncan (Tim Walker), who needs Pat to teach him how to be funny so he can win the love of the saddest girl in the world, Brenda (Caitlin Driscoll).

Playing the edge between tragedy and comedy, the Punch Up cast is so much awesome. Munch does a hilarious job with Pat’s stand-up meltdown, his comic rant turning to rage, revealing a man who’s hit rock bottom, his feral energy refocusing to solving Duncan’s problem to gain his freedom calmed as he’s literally chained to a typewriter. Walker’s Duncan is a loveable nerd, full of child-like naiveté, wide-eyed and willing to go to extreme lengths for a woman he’s just met and fallen in love at first sight with. (And, having recently finished a run of Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up with Cue6, Walker has become the go-to choice if your show needs a sweet nerd who kidnaps a celebrity for a good cause.) As Brenda, Driscoll is adorably troubled, afraid to love but longing too – her sharp humour softened by a glimmer of optimism when she accepts Duncan’s dinner invitation.

With shouts to the fun set design of Duncan’s place – aka “Pee Wee’s murder basement.”

So. Much. Funny! And some sad. Punch Up kills.

Punch Up continues its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times. Strongly suggest advance tix on this one – this is a very popular company and the place was packed yesterday afternoon.

 

Fiercely sexy, ruthlessly funny, real & raw – Theatre Brouhaha’s Delicacy

DELICACY_Tennille-Read-Andy-Trithardt-Kelly-McCormack-and-Kaleb-Alexander-left-clockwise.-Credit-ZAIDEN-620x500I had the great pleasure of seeing Theatre Brouhaha’s production of Kat Sandler’s Delicacy for the second time during its SummerWorks run at Lower Ossington Theatre last night. I’d first seen it during at Factory Theatre Studio back in the Fall and loved its sharp-edged, quick-witted, socially apt story and characters – played out by an outstanding cast. I was very interested to see if the play had changed for this current run – and with the exception of some minor tweaks, it hadn’t. And I loved it all over again.

Since I can’t think of much more to say about it, here are my thoughts from the November post:

Deliciously sharp and brutally funny, Delicacy (which Sandler also directed) is part modern-day comedy of manners, part exploration of modern relationships. Married couple Tanya (Tennille Read) and Mark (Andy Trithardt) invite into their home Colby (Kelly McCormack) and Len (Kaleb Alexander), a couple they met during their virgin visit to swingers bar Wicked. And an eventful, erotic first time it was. Opposites attract here – Tanya and Mark are perfectly put together, mid-30s urban professionals, living in a pristine white loft designed by Tanya. Perfectly chosen pieces of “important” art. Indoor shoes. Uptight is the first impression we get. Colby and Len, on the other hand, are 30-ish, hail from the suburbs, work in non-white collar jobs and engage in a decidedly “crazy” bohemian lifestyle – and are no strangers to the swingers scene. Secrets, as well as previously unexpressed thoughts and feelings, emerge throughout the course of the evening, as both couples are forced to confront some unpleasant issues facing their marriages.

Sandler’s sharp, quick-witted dialogue is in good evidence here and this stand-out ensemble is more than up for the challenge. Read and Trithardt do a lovely job of peeling back the mask of Tanya and Mark’s perfectly coiffed, charcuterie-serving, HBO-viewing exterior to the turmoil that lies beneath, with Colby and Len as the catalysts. Read’s already sexy Tanya blossoms with Len, from impervious ice queen to hot passion-flower, while Trithardt’s controlled Mark finds his wild side with Colby. Alexander and McCormack do an equally nice job of unfolding the raw emotion underlying Colby and Len’s playful, care-free lifestyle. McCormack is adorably kooky as Colby and Alexander is puckishly irreverent – but appearances can be deceiving and both possess a gravitas that belies their youthful, rowdy behaviour.

With shouts to the SummerWorks run designers Cat Haywood (costumes) for the spot on character fashions, and Melissa Joakim (set/lighting) for creating the sleek, almost sterile, urban environment of Tanya and Mark’s condo living room (as designed by Tanya).

Yep, Delicacy has it all going on this time around. Loved the addition of the Labyrinth reference and the bit between Mark and Colby. Something else that struck me, then heard aloud from a man sitting in front of me mention to his friend as we were exiting the theatre, sparking a brief chat: Delicacy has the same feel of God of Carnage in the polar opposite dynamic of the two couples, in its brutal wit and socially current themes – and in its dark, dramedy of manners edge.

Delicacy runs until August 17 at Lower Ossington Theatre’s main space. I highly recommend reserving in advance or getting there well before the box office opens – the house was packed last night, and this is a very popular show and bound to sell out. I can also see this show going places, but don’t wait. Go see this. Now.

It’s almost that time, kids — Toronto Fringe Festival is coming!

So how did it get to be the last week of June already?! Good news is that means that we’re about a week away from the Toronto Fringe Festival, running July 3-14.

Here’s a handful of shows I’m planning on seeing, with more to come:

Just Lift Your Feet, by Heather Allin  (stay tuned for my interview with actor/playwright Heather Allin on her one-woman show Just Lift Your Feet)

Killcreek, by Brandon Pitts

Stop Kiss, by Diana Son

We Are The Bomb, by Kat Sandler/Theatre Brouhaha

A Young Lady’s Guide to Vivisection, by Empty Box Company

What will you be seeing at Fringe this year?

So much fun coming up!

Thought I’d take a moment to post about some ongoing/upcoming arts events.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) continues this week with the Week Two program and reading (March 13-17), with Week Three program/reading running the week after (March 20-24).

Quick note on Saturday’s Week One reading of Falling: We had a packed house, with an audience who responded very positively and had some great feedback for playwright Jamie Johnson. Shouts to Jamie, co-artistic directors Pat McCarthy and Carolyn Zapf, director Ed Rosing, AD/SM Jake Simpkins, dramaturge Diane Forrest, sound designer Rick Jones, and fellow cast members Carys Lewis, Cora Matheson, Ruth Miller and Kristen Scott! And a big thanks to all the folks who came out to support the play, including friends and family – some of whom trekked in from Ottawa, Burlington and Hamilton. xo

The next edition of The Beautiful and the Damned is Thursday, March 14 – 7 p.m. at Glad Day Bookshop. Host DM Moore introduces feature performers Greg “Ritallin” Frankson, Gerald Hannon and Andraya Smith, and some amazing open mic folks.

The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks is coming up on Thursday, March 14 – 8:30 p.m. at Free Times Café, featuring Brian Cober, Hugh Wilson, Marcus Walker, Nelson Sobral and Nick Verona.

Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival opens Friday, March 15 and runs until March 24 at Berkeley Street Theatre – check out the cool promo vid for the fest.  Features a new play by one of my favourite playwrights: Judith Thompson’s Who Killed Snow White? Also check out Nightwood’s annual International Women’s Day Celebration FemCab on Wednesday, March 20.

Speaking of my favourite playwrights, check out ongoing productions of works by Hannah Moscovitch (Double Bill) at Tarragon Theatre (till March 24) and Theatre Brouhaha’s production of Kat Sandler’s Rock at Storefront Theatre (till March 23).

And while you’re at it, check out the March programming and workshops at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Canadian Music Week (CMW) is coming up hard and fast (March 19-24) – so check that out. Just a selection of some artists I know who will be performing: Angela Saini, blueVenus, Meghan Morrison, Jessica Speziale, Tin Star Orphans

But wait – there’s more! Bella’s Burlesque Birthday Bash: DIRTY THIRTY DANCE PARTY is coming up on Thursday, March 28 at Lee’s Palace – 8:30 p.m. Bella Fox hosts a night of burlesque, music (including High Heels Lo Fi), dancing – it’s going to be a blast. Next day is Good Friday, so lots of you will be able to sleep that one off.

All the more reason for me to get over this stupid head cold, which I’ve had since last Thursday.