Taming the Shrew like it’s 1989 in sharply witty, playfully bawdy, LGBTQ+ Bard’s Bus Tour

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Geoffrey Armour & Siobhan Richardson – photo by Dahlia Katz

Driftwood Theatre Group launched its annual Bard’s Bus Tour earlier this month, this time with a 1980s Toronto Pride take on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Driftwood Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith and running this week at Toronto’s Withrow Park.

A challenging play to produce for modern-day audiences, given its dynamic of patriarchal dominance tinged with misogyny, Smith and company decided to take the opportunity to present the play from a contemporary point of view, exploring themes of identity, consent and equality.

Set in 1989, Lucentio (Fiona Sauder) and Tranio (Paolo Santalucia) travel from small-town Ontario to Toronto to experience the sights, sounds and possible romantic entanglements of Pride. Upon their arrival, they witness a family matter gone public, as Baptista (Renée Hackett) engages in a battle of words with Hortensio (Drew O’Hara) and Gremio (played by various company members, in mask), both would-be suitors to her youngest daughter Bianca (Tahirih Vejdani). Baptista refuses to let anyone marry Bianca until her eldest daughter, the wild Katharine (Siobhan Richardson) is wed first, an edict which prompts Hortensio to enlist the aid of his old friend Petruchio (Geoffrey Armour), newly arrived from Hamilton, recently furnished with a great inheritance after his father’s death and seeking a wife.

In the meantime, Lucentio has fallen for Bianca, and they* and Tranio devise a plan to woo her, whereby they switch identities so Tranio can present Lucentio as a tutor to Baptista’s household. Meanwhile, Petruchio and Hortensio have hatched a similar plan, placing Hortensio as a music teacher. The initial spark between Petruchio and Katharine becomes apparent as they begin a game of wits and dominance. They marry on the day of the Pride Parade, and he immediately takes her away to his home in Hamilton where he begins the process of taming her as the two test their boundaries. Add to this wacky mix are two Vincentio’s (Lucentio’s father): a pedant enlisted by Tranio to play the part in order to validate the dowry offer and the real Vincentio, who arrives searching for his child.

Artfully staged, with a minimalist set comprised of modular, movable Tetris pieces (designed by Smith), and utilizing commedia dell’arte masks (for Gremio, Vincentio and the various servants, each played by various members of the company), puppetry, inventive props, and outrageous and colourful 80s costuming (Melanie McNeill), Driftwood’s The Taming of the Shrew challenges our preconceived notions of this play in a battle of equals, loving who they want to love and how they want to love.

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Paolo Santalucia & Fiona Sauder – photo by Dahlia Katz

Shouts to an outstanding ensemble, with its high-energy performances and totally rad a cappella renderings of favourite 80s pop tunes (arrangements by Tom Lillington). Armour is both charming and rough as Petruchio, a ruffian with a loving disposition beneath the lusty denim and flannel exterior. Richardson is fierce and unforgiving as the neglected Katherine, whose heart longs for love beneath that scrappy attitude; she consents to soften under her husband’s direction as they set the terms for their relationship of equals. Sauder is adorably love-stricken and determined as the floppy-haired cutie pie Lucentio; and Vejdani’s Bianca is a small but feisty gal under the good little sister exterior. Hackett is a strong negotiator and drives a hard bargain as the noble, put-upon mother Baptista; and is hilarious as Petruchio’s laid-back servant Curtis. Santalucia is a delight as the sharp-witted, mercurial and flamboyant Tranio; and O’Hara gives a hilarious turn as the spurned and opportunistic Hortensio.

Taming the Shrew like it’s 1989 in Driftwood Theatre’s sharply witty, playfully bawdy, LGBTQ+ Bard’s Bus Tour 2016.

The Taming of the Shrew continues at Toronto’s Withrow Park until this Sunday, July 24 – please note the 7:30 start time. Toronto performances include the following extras:

July 20: Pre-show chat (6:45 p.m.) with Dr. Nikki Cesare Schotzko, University of Toronto

July 21: Intermission show by 80s throwback a cappella band Retrocity; post-show chat with the actors

July 22: Pre-show chat (6:45 p.m.) with Headmistress Shaharazad

Shrew then moves on to various locations across Ontario till August 14; check here for cities, dates and seat reservation info.

*In this production, the part of Lucentio has been cast to be gender fluid, identifying as neither male nor female; therefore, the pronoun “they” is used.

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Dawn Patrol Pride brings the big, gay funny @ Comedy Bar

Had some big, gay fun times at Dawn Whitwell’s weekly Dawn Patrol standup show at Comedy Bar last night – this week, the extra spectacular Pride edition.

Last night’s lineup featured an amazing roster of local talent, representing some of the funniest gays in the City (in order of appearance):

Paul Hutcheson

Danz Altvater

Regina the Gentlelady (see also the band The Lightfires)

Marco Bernardi

Carolyn Taylor

Phil Luzi

Catherine McCormick

Ted Morris

Deanne Smith

Here are some pix I took last night:

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Beautiful, fun word play with Lizzie Violet

Okay, so right off the top, I have to admit a certain amount of bias – okay, a whole lot of bias – when it comes to Lizzie Violet. She’s super smart, funny and has an incredible way with words – and is brave enough to get up in front of a room full of strangers to read them – and she’s a really good friend. She’s also the reason I’ve been getting out to see so many amazingly talented poets and spoken word artists over the past year.

Last night, I had the pleasure of dropping by open mic night at Free Times Café to hear Lizzie read some of her work. Pretty sure this was her first time reading there – and, despite TTC challenges causing her to be running a bit late, she arrived looking fabulous, checked in with host Jeff Kahl, then hung out with Brandon Pitts and Jennifer and me for a bit at our booth near the back room (as it was packed with no seats left) before shortly getting called on stage. She read some of my – and Jeff’s – favourites: the devilishly mischievous and fun piece about her childhood invisible friend Sid, the hilarious mom blurt piece “Chlamydia is Not a Flower,” and the very funny and sharply pointed unsubstantiated relationship piece. She avoided the naughty haikus, as there were minors present, but read us a few back at our booth. They’re very erotic. Seriously erotic. I wasn’t able to get close enough for a decent photo while she was reading, but thanks to host Jeff Kahl, here’s a stunning pic of Lizzie – it puts me in mind of classic cabaret: smoky and shadowy.

Lizzie will be reading this Friday, August 24 (5 – 9 p.m.) at Harvest Noon (16 Bancroft Ave., Toronto) with featured poets Cassandra Witteman and Vanessa McGowan, among others.

Also coming up: The Beautiful and the Damned (TB&TD) on Thursday, September 13 (7 – 9 p.m.) at Glad Day Bookshop (598 Yonge St., Toronto – upstairs), with host DM Moore, and feature performers Jacob Scheier, David Bateman and Jessica Speziale. Lizzie is the go-to gal for TB&TD poster design, has been a feature performer and often performs in the open mic slots.

Here’s Lizzie reading at Toronto Pride 2012, with Amoeba Starfish playing in the background:

Friends, words & music @ Toronto Pride 2012

Some very big fun times at Pride this year, chickens. And as I enjoy a day off to recover – so to speak, since I’m hanging with a friend this aft. – thought I’d take a moment to reflect and share some fun moments from the past weekend.

Friday night was Chic Productions Carnival women’s Pride dance at the Palais Royale. Always love going to that space and the Pride dance always sells out there – so the place is full of women (with us single gals tagged with glow-in-the-dark bracelets before they let us loose in the wild – optional). I met up with my friend Ty, her gf Liz and their friend Cathy, and bumped into a bunch of folks throughout the evening – some of whom I hadn’t seen in ages and some I usually bump into at the Pride dance.

With entertainment by Zero Gravity Circus, a lovely woman on stilts greeted folks at the entrance and performers dazzled at various points in the evening: ribbon gymnastic dancers, silk acrobats and fire jugglers – all while the music was playing and women were dancing their butts off. The patio is especially lovely, with a gorgeous cool breeze wafting and the lake so close by and beautifully calm.

Saturday, I met up with my good pal Lizzie Violet to go see the Dyke March. It was frickin’ hot out there, but we managed to catch some shade on the west side of Yonge, a bit south of Wellesley and had a comfortable viewing spot for the festivities. We met up with Kat Leonard and Leah Walker at Lizzie’s place early evening for a fabulous picnic dinner – Lizzie’s birthday present to me – with tons of tasty vegan salads (yes, I said tasty – good food is good food!), wine and her amazing birthday cupcakes. And we watched about half a dozen episodes of Sex and the City, three of which featured Samantha’s brief relationship with a woman (played by the stunningly beautiful Sonia Braga). Another great evening with friends – and an amazing finish to my month of birthday.

Sunday – and I’ll be brief ‘cuz I have a bunch of photos I want to share – I met up with Lizzie, Kat and Leah again, along with pals Janis, Brandon, Laurie and Adrienne, to see Lizzie perform in the Beautiful and the Damned (B&D) readings at the Paul Kane Parkette (the Clean, Sober and Proud Stage). Poets/spoken word artists included: Duncan Armstrong, David Bateman, Philip Cairns, DM Moore and Lizzie Violet. Since Zelda’s is now closed after sustaining a fire, the next B&D event will be at Glad Day bookstore on July 19. After taking a break indoors at Spirits pub for an early dinner and a pint, we returned to that stage for an evening of music with Iman Wain, Rex Baunsit, Arlene Paculan and Meghan Morrison. Amazingly talented folks sharing their art. So. Much. Fun.

Dyke March – dykes on bikes
Dyke March – rainbow flag
Readings – Duncan Armstrong
Readings – Philip Cairns
Readings – David Bateman
Readings – DM Moore
Readings – Lizzie Violet
Iman Wain
Rex Baunsit
Arlene Paculan
Meghan Morrison

Best. Pride. Ever. Here are some pix.

Passionate words & music @ Zelda’s The Beautiful & the Damned – Pride edition

Back upstairs at Zelda’s (aka “the trailer in the sky”) for another edition of The Beautiful and the Damned last night – with my pal, the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet – this time, for a special (and early treat) Pride edition, sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA). Dead celeb of the month: Jean Genet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Genet

Host DM Moore had a full roster of features and open mic readers/performers, and as I’ve done previously, I’d like to go for a word association riff here. If I’ve misspelled or misnamed anyone, please let me know in Comments and I’ll correct the error asap. One thing all these artists had in common was passion in their words, whether by poetry, spoken word or song.

Ghadeer Malek

Features: Ghadeer Malek – poetry of the pain and resilience of the Palestinian people, resolving to not just survive but thrive; marginalization of queers and Palestinians, and the local struggles of Toronto Pride, QAIA participation and the threat of losing city funding. Words that resonated with me: “I write because I want to set my stories free” and “There must be hope.”

Hamid Parnian

Hamid Parnian – sweet, soft-spoken young man from Iran, alternating between Farsi and English in a beautiful, good-humoured piece of yearning, memory and love.

Mraya

Mraya (three-woman group: Maryem Toller, Jayne Brown and Sophia Grigoriadis) – traditional songs from Palestine, Egypt and Greece, accompanying themselves with drum, tambourine and tabor (?); strong, beautiful female voices blending in harmony.

Open mic folks: Katherine (Katrina?) Hernandez – she had me at “CWL” with her funny, insightful piece on family and being different; love the use of “twitterpated,” which came before Twitter even existed.

Vanessa McGowan – a piece to those who aren’t safe; timely and passionate, “Everyone has to be heard.” See her at an upcoming slam on June 20 at Waterfalls in Kensington Market (303 Augusta Ave., Toronto).

Brandon Pitts – performed his poem, which if memory serves, is called The Apocalypse of Weeks – “On the senate floor, I will crush them” political, sardonic and visceral. Pitts’ play One Night will be appearing at the George Ignatieff Theatre (GIT) during the Toronto Fringe.

Jeff Cottrill – hilarious Darwin Award-worthy piece: product welcome and instructions for the Darwina microwave oven, my fave instruction: “Do not place your Darwina microwave oven in a catapult.” Catch him at Kaplansky’s on June 17.

Philip Cairns – 21st century existential reflections in A Bombing for Peace: “I’m ashamed to be a citizen of this planet.” July 6, catch him doing The Judy Monologues at the Toronto Fringe.

John Nyman – irreverently funny and good-natured life observations. Catch him at The Central on Sunday, June 24.

Joe Dewar – first time up at Zelda’s, giving us a “damned contribution,” comic cranky old liberal guy poetry – fun!

Duncan Armstrong – reflections on queerphobia and violence in our times.

Troy Jackson – soulful blues gospel songs (sung a cappella), shout out to his black/gay/Muslim/Turtle Island native identity, beautiful bracelet and striking bow tie, the man is stylin’.

Susan Munroe – the lady in the rat pack hat, reading a spiritual, existential and lyrical piece from her recently published book Coil.

Sue Goldstein – activist and poet, “Not Sleeping but Remembering” exploring cleaning house, clearing life, struggles with life’s clutter both domestic and in the larger sense of memory, identity.

Cathy Petch – up wearing a newsboy hat, serving up an erotic zit fetish ballad. Catch her at The Truth or Dare Slam on June 19 at Supermarket (268 Augusta Ave., Toronto).

And that was one great, full evening of passionate words. Confession: in my haste to get ready and out the door this morning, I stupidly forgot my camera cable – so I’ll have to insert photos later this weekend.

Troy Jackson
Sue Goldstein
Philip Cairns

p.s. – done. Here are some more.