Suffrage, prohibition, love & puppets in Driftwood’s charming, timely, re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It)

Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Driftwood Theatre Group puts a beloved Shakespearean heroine’s name back on the marquee with its charming, timely 2018 Bard’s Bus Tour production of the re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It), directed by AD D. Jeremy Smith. It’s 1918; and women’s suffrage, prohibition and WWI are at the forefront—and so is true love. I caught Rosalynde in Toronto at Ontario Place Trillium Park last night.

The Duke’s Distillery has been taken over by Frederick (Eric Woolfe), a hard-nosed gangster who has ousted his brother Senior to take over the business and run illegal booze across Lake Ontario to the U.S. Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden, finding rustic sanctuary with a small group of loyal followers. The banished Senior’s daughter Rosalynde (Sochi Fried) has been allowed to stay, as she’s the beloved friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia (Ximena Huizi)—but when he finds public opinion favouring his niece, he banishes her as well. Armed with a plan to flee to the forest disguised as brother and sister, the two young women sneak away with the company Fool Touchstone (Geoffrey Armour) in tow.

The neglected young Orlando (Ngabo Nabea) is facing similar struggles at home with his cruel older brother Oliver (Derek Kwan). When he goes to test his mettle at a local wrestling match, he and Rosalynde become mutually smitten; and he defeats Frederick’s man Charles (puppet, Megan Miles). When his faithful old servant Adam (Armour) learns that Oliver and Frederick are plotting against Orlando’s life, he urges his young master to flee—and the two leave their home for the safety of the forest.

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Ngabo Nabea, with Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried in the background. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Forest of Arden is where the magic happens. Disguised as the youth Ganymede, Rosalynde advises the love-struck Orlando, as well as the love-sick shepherd Silvius (puppet, Kwan), whose rebuffed attentions to Phebe (puppet, Miles) are thwarted further by Phebe’s new-found attraction to Ganymede. And one of Senior’s (Woolfe) friends, the world-weary, profoundly disheartened suffragette Jaques (Caroline Gillis), searches for meaning and a reason to carry on as she observes life in the forest, the unfolding love stories and a Fool out for a wife. Love, reunion, and new perspectives on life and the world unfold—and the forest inhabitants demonstrate compassion, equity and brave determination. And yet, we’re reminded that not all will partake in the new rights and opportunities that emerge during this time: men and women of colour do not yet have the right to vote; and men of colour are denied the opportunity to serve in the war.

Stellar work from the ensemble in a production that entertains as much as it illuminates. Weaving in snatches of news on the suffrage movement, prohibition and the First World War, we get the sense of a time and place immersed in great upheaval and social change. The rural natives of the forest are all puppets, as are some of Frederick’s henchmen (Eric Woolfe is also the AD of Eldritch Theatre, specializing in horror and fantasy storytelling using puppetry, mask and magic)—masterfully brought to life by various members of the cast, especially Megan Miles.

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Megan Miles as Charles the wrestler. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Fried is luminous as the mercurial, fiercely independent, giddy in love Rosalynde; coupled with Nabea’s brave, bold and adorably bashful Orlando, we see two abused young people forced to flee their homes and take charge of their lives—and coming to see the world, themselves and love with new eyes. The wisdom of women figures prominently in this production, from Huizi’s sharply witty, sassy, ever loyal Celia to Gillis’s poignant, well-travelled, experienced aviatrix Jaques. Jaques comes by her melancholy honestly, having seen—and feeling too much—of the world’s unfairness and cruelty. Here, the women school each other and the men in their lives: Jaques shares her experience with observant Celia; and the practical Rosalynde teaches the idealistic Orlando about the everyday nature of romantic relationships. Armour gives a hilarious, high-energy performance—bringing laughs and social commentary—as the quixotic scamp Touchstone.

Rosalynde (or, As You Like It) has one more performance at Ontario Place Trillium Park tonight (Aug 2) at 7:30 p.m.; thanks to the generous support of Ontario Place, admission is free—and Driftwood is happily accepting donations. Bring a chair, a blanket and bug spray (chair rental is available for $5—get there early). There’s a concession stand with drinks (including alcohol) and snacks; you can also score some sweet Driftwood merch over by the chair rental tent.

The Bard’s Bus Tour continues on its way, wrapping up its run on August 12. Check the Driftwood website for performance dates and locations; admission is free or PWYC, as indicated in the venue listing. Worried about weather? Check out the rain policy here.

For more on Rosalynde, check out director D. Jeremy Smith and actor Sochi Fried in an interview with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Here and Now.

 

 

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Interview: Brooklyn Doran, Jessica Speziale & Iliya Vee talk Rainboots & Rock N’ Roll tour

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Jessica Speziale, Iliya Vee & Brooklyn Doran ready to rawk Rainboots & Rock N’ Roll tour – photo by Darnell Toth

Three artists. Three acts. One car. Toronto indie music artists Jessica Speziale, Brooklyn Doran and Iliya Vee (of Dreadful Starlings) loaned their talents to a successful Christmas album and concert fundraiser for the Humber River Hospital Foundation with Indigal, a Toronto-based indie music collective. The three artists have joined forces to launch Rainboots and Rock N’ Roll, a 10-day tour of Southern Ontario, kicking off in Toronto with a gig at Cameron House on April 1, then travelling from St. Catharines to Montreal.

Here are the Rainboots and Rock N’ Roll tour dates/venues:

April 1 – Cameron House, Toronto

April 3 – Band on a Couch, St. Catharines

April 4 – Private house concert with fans in Burlington

April 5 – The Garnet, Peterborough

April 6 – LIVE On Elgin, Ottawa

April 8 – Le Cagibi, Montreal

April 8 – Le Depanneur, Montreal

LWMC: Hey guys, thanks for taking some time out to talk about your upcoming Rainboots and Rock N’ Roll tour. So whose wacky, wonderful idea was this anyway? How did you come up with the cool tour name?

JS: Ahhhh!!! I love that you love the name!! We were playing around with names that would say something similar to “Spring Tour” without actually calling it that. [laughs] Rainboots are cute and make me think of April. [smooch] Thanks so much! In terms of deciding to hit the road together, Brooklyn and I are part of an eight-woman indie music collective called Indigal which recorded a Christmas album this past Christmas. Iliya was actually playing bass on the record, and so one day after rehearsal, Brooklyn gave us a ride home and we were talking about how much we both wanted to tour. We were like, “let’s do it!!!”

BD: That was definitely Jessica! I’m going to wear my yellow wellies on as many stages as I can.

IV: The tour name was definitely Jessica’s idea. We’re roommates, and I’ve been playing bass in her band for about two years. We had thrown the idea of going on tour around a few times, and then it just made a whole lot of sense once Brooklyn was in the picture. It helps to have someone with a car involved.

LWMC: And how did you come to book these specific venues?

BD: We are so lucky to have a great network of friends across Southern Ontario and in Montreal who were able to hook us up. Josh Spencer from KickDrum Montreal is a great person to contact in the city because not only is he THE guy to contact about booking a great (and well-attended) indie show, he pays so much attention to the curation of his showcases – from the way the music will flow from one act to the next, to the venue, and even down to the poster design. I definitely recommend working with KickDrum to anyone touring to Montreal for the first time.

JS: We’re super excited to be playing all of these amazing places! In some instances, we’re also returning to some of the great venues we’ve played before on past tours. So grateful for our networks.

IV: Both Jess and Brooklyn have a much more developed network of artists and promoters to draw on than I, never really having performed extensively outside of Toronto. My band (The Dreadful Starlings) has played the odd festival way out here and there, and I’m looking at this as an opportunity to learn who’s who and make some lasting connections for future appearances along our tour route.

LWMC: Tell us a bit about the sets you’ll be performing. I hear you’re going to be accompanying each other – and doing solo bits as well?

JS: Yes!! To both. [laughs] We will be playing our own acoustic sets, some parts solo, and others with each other. Tambourines and shakers will be coming out as well!

BD: By the end of the tour, I’m sure we’ll be singing every song from everyone’s set! I love getting the opportunity to contribute to another artists work and hear them sing and play on my songs using creative and exciting arrangements that I haven’t hear before when singing it in my head.

IV: I normally play bass in Jessica’s band, although guitar is my native instrument, so to speak, so I will play along on any songs the girls ask me to. Initially we were planning to have all three of us play all the time, but we found parts of our repertoire were less inclined to this approach. Plus this way, we get a chance to engage the crowd and have a drink or two while one of us holds down the stage.

LWMC: Are any of you trying out new material on this tour? 

BD: I just finished tracking my new album These Paper Wings, which was recorded all at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, so I’ll be singing a few of the songs from that album unplugged (although I’m keeping a few tracks secret until the album release).

I am also premiering my newest song and video “I Found a Home” on April 29 for CBC Searchlight. It was recorded live, in one take, on a rooftop in downtown Toronto and was inspired by a couple I met who’d been married for 40 years.

JS: I’ve been in the recording studio recently to record my next single!! Some of my biggest fans may have heard it, but I’ll definitely be trying it out on this tour! (*whispers* It’s called “Wildfire”!)

IV: Most assuredly. I’ll be playing some selections from The Dreadful Starlings’ latest EP release Shack Up With The Downside, as well as some new tunes that have never seen the light of day and some old songs that never really made it out off the paper.

LWMC: Who’s driving?

BD: Me!

IV: Are you a cop? Because, legally, you have to tell me if you’re a cop.

LWMC: Nope, not a cop. Though I do give off that kinda vibe sometimes. A few road trip trivia questions: Favourite road trip snack?

JS: Coffee!! Lots of coffee.

BD: Dried Mangos and Tim Horton’s coffee.

IV: Trail mix. It makes me feel like I’m doing myself some good and hiking about somewhere rather than sitting still for hours on end.

LWMC: Favourite place to stop for a bite?

BD: Roadside diners with 24/hr. breakfasts are my FAVOURITE!

JS: I’m loving the ON Routes that have Teriyaki Express. The 5th Wheel in, like, Bowmanville is pretty sweet too.

IV: Grocery stores! Love a good bowl of pho, too.

LWMC: Favourite road trip music?

BD: My car only has a CD player, so it wonderfully forces you to listen to entire albums front to back instead of sampling singles. Right now in my stereo, I’m really digging local Montreal artist Greg McEvoy’s newest release “Selfish Love Songs.

JS: Sam Roberts is the ultimate!! For this tour, I’m stoked that Brooklyn’s car has a CD player. I’m bringing all my No Doubt, Lenny Kravitz, Sam Roberts and Silverchair CDs.

IV: Wait, CDs only? Not even a tape deck? I can hook us UP if you have a tape deck, Brooklyn. I’ll have to sift through my collection but I see some Gypsy Kings, The Doors, Robert Johnson and Elvis Costello kicking around. Jessica has the Sam Roberts on lock, which I also love.

LWMC: What’s your road trip jam: Do you like to take your time, with ample pee and snack breaks? Or do you prefer to just give ‘er and get there?

JS: Definitely the former. I like pee breaks. I also gun it between pee breaks, but I’m a fan of not feeling rushed. We’re also hoping to pop into towns along the way to busk and meet people!

BD: As long as I have warm coffee, I could drive for miles and miles.

IV: Well, playing shows can sometimes seem a bit like golf… Hurry up and wait, you know? So somewhere in between I guess… You don’t want to be late and make someone’s night stressful, but you generally don’t want to beat the sound guy/gal to the venue either.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

BD: If you get the chance, please send your votes our way for the CBC Searchlight competition. Your votes contribute to how much our music is programmed on CBC Radio throughout the year and we’d love to be on the airwaves with our original music as much as possible.

You can find us on CBC Music here:
Brooklyn Doran
Jessica Speziale

Iliya Vee

IV: I just gotta have more cowbell!

LWMC: Thanks, guys! Look forward to seeing you at Cameron House on April 1.

JS: Thanks for having us!!

 

But wait, there’s more! The April 1 gig at Cameron House also includes Jacquelyn Tober & the Rose County Ramblers.

You can also give Speziale, Doran and Vee a listen on their respective music streaming/purchasing sites.