Epic good times & kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II: Callaghan! & SwordPlay

sex t-rex worldtour

I think we can all safely say that last night’s opening of Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II production of Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords was the sweatiest fun Sex T-Rex show yet. At Unit 102 Theatre for a two-night run before heading east, the Sex T-Rex double bill will be the last show running in the Unit 102 space – and Unit 102 Theatre Company is in the process of looking for a new home. Both shows are directed by Alec Toller, with fight choreography by Kevin MacPherson.

Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly, written by Seann Murray and Colin Munch, is a hilarious, action-packed homage to the relic hunting Indiana Jones genre. The opening scene finds the gruffly handsome, leather jacket clad Jack Callaghan (Danny Pagett) seated with three disreputable characters, playing Russian roulette in St. Petersburg (where they just call it “roulette”); he’s lost everything he holds dear and he gives no f*cks. Even in his despair, he can’t resist when his burley, fly by the seat of his pants friend Sal (Connor Bradbury) shows up with one last job. They must find the Hunab Ku, an ancient Mayan relic with untold power, before the evil Dr. Klaus Von Handerstopp (Seann Murray) does. As they set upon their mission with their loyal nerd tech support guy Walt (Julian Frid), memories of their lovely, game and resourceful colleague Muriel (Kaitlin Morrow) haunt Callaghan’s every waking moment. During the nail-biting, side-splitting climax, Callaghan comes face-to-face with Von Handerstopp – and must make a hard choice.

Bang-on, hysterically funny characterizations; evocative exposition via brilliantly written narration; and playful, improv-inspired action that uses imaginative props – all delivered with Sex T-Rex’s signature comedic, cinematic and high-energy stylings – Callaghan! is one big kick-ass fun adventure. All this and one helluva dance break (choreography by Robin Henderson).

SwordPlay: A Play of Swords borrows from some swashbuckling favourites that include nods to The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers and Game of Thrones, as well as 1980s video games. I saw SwordPlay in an earlier double bill back in March (with Watch Out, Wild Kat! at the Storefront Theatre) – and had just as much big fun the second time around.

Epic good times and kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s Callaghan! and SwordPlay World Tour II double bill.

Sex T-Rex continues their Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords double bill with one more show in Toronto at Unit 102 Theatre tonight (Sat, Aug 20) at 8pm and 9:30 pm, respectively. Then, they’re off to the following cities/venues:

Thursday, August 25 at 8pm – Academic Hall, Ottawa, ON

Friday, August 26 at 8pm – Montreal Improv, Montreal, QC

Sunday, August 28 at 8pm – The Black Box Theatre, Fredericton, NB

September 2-11 – Atlantic Fringe Festival, Halifax, NS

You can keep up with all things Sex T-Rex on Twitter and Facebook.

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Top 10 of 2014

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Friends & fellow artists of Nik Beat perform a track at the launch for his Famous For Falling CD @ Amsterdam Bicycle Club

Seeing as I already took a bit of a peek out of my December hiatus with the Sleepy Beauty post last weekend – and as this is the last day of 2014 – thought I’d take another peek out to post my top 10 of 2014. Here it is, from a variety of disciplines, in alphabetical order:

Nik Beat: Famous For Falling CD/chapbook launch @ Amsterdam Bicycle Club
The De Chardin Project @ Theatre Passe Muraille
Elizabeth Rex (East Side Players) @ Papermill Theatre
I Hate Todd: The Moves Pt. 1 CD launch @ The Horseshoe Tavern
Lisa MacIntosh: ASK photography exhibit @ 3030 Dundas West
Memento Mori (Tracey Erin Smith/SoulO Theatre) @ Toronto Fringe
Mercury Fur (Seven Siblings Theatre Company) @ Unit 102 Theatre
Romeo and (Her) Juliet (Headstrong Collective/Urban Bard) @ Bloor Street United Church
Jessica Speziale: Shine CD launch @ The Duke Live
Trace (Theatre Gargantua/Vertical City) @ SummerWorks

Have a big fun and safe New Year’s Eve, all. See ya’s next year! xo

Love & violence in a world gone to hell in Mercury Fur

MFUR-10Seven Siblings Theatre Company’s opened its Canadian premiere of Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur, directed by Will King and assistant director Madryn McCabe (two of the three co-founders of Seven Siblings, along with Erika Downie), at Unit 102 Theatre last night.

Set in a post-apocalyptic city in a time very close to present day – too close for comfort – Mercury Fur reveals a world turned savage and lawless, where everyday people are forced go to extreme measures to survive roving gangs, riots and looting. Brothers Elliot (Cameron Laurie) and Darren (Andrew Markowiak) work for Spinx (Mishka Thébaud), dealing in hallucinogenic – and sometimes dangerous – drugs in the form of butterflies, sometimes purchased with stolen antiquities. For some, the virtual fantasies that play out in the mind under the influence of butterflies aren’t enough – and so Spinx and his crew also arrange “parties” for clients who play top dollar to have their deepest, darkest fantasies realized, in real time with real people.

The story that unfolds is brutal and beautiful, cruel and tender – violence and love weave in and out between the characters, some struggling to recall more decent, peaceful times while others long to forget. The language is both lyrical and extremely violent; words are both weapons and tools of seduction. Violence and sex intermingle into fetishism, and anecdotes of horrific memories are told with emotional detachment or adventure story excitement. The sharing of good memories offers a brief emotional oasis from past and present terrors.

The directing team has a very strong cast for this often intensely dark theatrical journey. As older brother Elliot, the brains and head of his fractured, broken family, Laurie does a lovely job with the complex range of emotions – by turns harsh and tender, sharply focused and hopelessly lost. Andrew Markowiak’s Darren is both comic and heartbreaking; a simple, child-like youth, broken both physically and psychologically by events and butterfly consumption. Like Darren, the brothers’ new friend and co-worker Naz is drug-addled but sweet, longing for connection and a new family to replace the one he’s lost to violence – a nicely well-rounded performance from Adrian Beattie. Eric Rich is both fiercely streetwise and warmly kind-hearted as Lola. Thébaud is compelling as the gang leader, cold and cruel, but protective of his pack – especially the Duchess. Annemieke Wade’s Duchess is beautifully fragile and damaged, struggling to hold onto some sense of gentility and grace in the wild carelessness of this horrific new world. As the Party Piece, Kenneth Collins is delicately vulnerable in the boy’s stoned and sick state. And D. Gingerich does a really nice job as the Party Guest, a repugnant and callous sociopath with friends in high places, caught between his desire for blood and the fear of a rat on a sinking ship.

Stephen King’s set, a boarded up, abandoned flat in an apartment block – with its deep red outer walls, stone centre wall with a fireplace mantle, deep brown leather furniture, and lack of electricity and hot water – shows us what urban life has come to, but also acts as a reminder of a more civilized world. A world many of us take for granted. Parker Nowlan (lighting and sound) sets the scene with an eerie, industrial soundscape and gives us a gradual sundown throughout the play, the darkening of the sky running parallel with the increasingly dark action onstage.

Seven Siblings’ production of Mercury Fur is a deeply disturbing, moving and darkly funny look at violence and love in a world gone to hell.

You can also follow Seven Siblings Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out for this dynamic young company. Mercury Fur continues its run at Unit 102 Theatre until September 6 – click here for advance tix.

A powerful, moving adaptation – The Deliverance of Juliet & Her Romeo

juliet & her romeoI was very lucky to be able to get in to see the closing night performance of Leroy Street Theatre’s/Avant Bard Productions’ adaptation of Romeo and JulietThe Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo – at Unit 102 Theatre last night.

Adapted by Harrison Thomas, Ashleigh Kasaboski and Anne van Leeuwen, and directed by Thomas, this version of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers is set in a modern-day religious right dystopia (think Handmaid’s Tale meets Bountiful, B.C.). The Capulets are members of the dominant cult, and Lord Capulet (Scott Walker) is their prophet/leader; Lady Capulet is a trio of sister wives that includes the traditional Nurse role (Michelle Cloutier, Kelly Van der Burg and Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt – with D’Alessandro Hatt playing the Nurse wife, called “Aunt” by Juliet); and Juliet (Kasaboski) is the dutiful, but lively, daughter and prized possession. Romeo (van Leeuwen) is a woman, with only her mother Lady Montague (Emily Nixon) and cousin Benvolio (Cam Sedgwick) to call family – and all are reviled heretics in the eyes of the Capulet cult. Living outside these opposing families are the socially liberal missionary Friar Lawrence (Christopher Mott) and his daughter Mercutio (Lauren Horejda), who is BFFs with Benvolio and Romeo.

In this Romeo and Juliet, the hate between the two families is mostly one-sided, with the more powerful Capulets lording over all – and not above acts of self-righteous violence to keep control and purge their society of undesirables. And, here, the young love between Juliet and her Romeo, cut short by hatred and intolerance, is all the more tragic – you’d think that, by the late 20th centruy, people would know better.

Played out on a starkly furnished, almost Spartan, set of chain link fences and wooden boxes – and backed by a live soundtrack of guitar, banjo and a selection of hymns, including a particularly lovely choral performance of “Down to the River to Pray” – this Verona is physically divided, the Capulet commune more like a prison than a community.

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo has an excellent cast. Stand-outs include Kasaboski, who brings a youthful passion and energy – and desperate bravery – to Juliet; and van Leeuwen’s Romeo is a lovely combination of sensitive, romantic and melancholy (this production also borrows text from Hamlet), whose courage tends more toward the brash and impetuous compared to her more measured lover. Walker’s performance as Capulet is riveting – his Capulet’s domineering, at times violent, behaviour and ‘my way or the highway’ attitude is all the more disturbing, as it’s all done in the name of God. D’Alessandro Hatt’s Lady Capulet 3/Nurse is compelling and compassionate – surprised to find that the Romeo to whom she delivers Juliet’s message is a woman, but not allowing prejudice to sway her opinion of Romeo’s good character. It is towards this wife that Capulet directs his violence when she attempts to intervene when Juliet refuses to marry Paris – and her eventual support of the match seems to come more from a place of protecting Juliet’s welfare than betrayal. Mott’s Friar Lawrence, who also acts as the Chorus, does an excellent job of juggling the conflicting political and emotional situations he finds himself in; striving to keep the peace and protect his family, his resolve pushed to the breaking point when his daughter is killed and the Capulets plan a mass suicide after Juliet’s ‘death’ (drawn from real-life 1978 Jonestown Massacre). And Horejda is remarkable as Mercutio (also plays the Apothecary) – cocky, irreverent and exceedingly clever, with a tortured soul beneath the wise-cracking antics, and so in love with Romeo.

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo is a powerful, moving adaptation – and the big deal here is not that the young lovers are women, but that the world in which they live is ruled by the hate and narrow-mindedness of an extreme religious right group that ultimately implodes upon itself. Bad news is, the run is over. Good news is, you can keep an eye out for Leroy Street Theatre and Avant Bard Productions – and this fine cast – to see where they go next.

 

Shifting power & perception in a struggle to communicate – Oleanna

Got out to see Unit 102 Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s Oleanna last night; the play is running in rotation with Neil Labute’s In a Dark, Dark House at Unit 102’s space at 376 Dufferin St., Toronto (just south of Queen St. W., on the west side of Dufferin).

Directed by David LaFontaine, and starring Linzee Barclay and Scott Walker, Oleanna presents the battle of two wills: Carol and John. The student/professor relationship plays out with increasingly higher stakes, shifting power dynamics, and an intensely frustrating struggle to communicate and be understood. The dialogue is classic Mamet – at times rapid fire, overlapping, fumbling for words, at others a debate – the language both profane and academic, everyday and elevated. Communication and perception – and how what is communicated verbally or physically is received, regardless of intent or original meaning – twist and pull, with the characters launching into a volcanic he said/she said. And, ultimately, actions really do speak louder than words.

Really strong work from both Barclay and Walker in negotiating the evolution of the characters and the mood of this relationship. And kudos for their handling of the dialogue, especially challenging in the first scene, particularly after being away from performance for a few days (they’ve been performing Wed. and Fri. nights, with a couple of Sun. matinées). Barclay lays out Carol’s growth and increasing confidence, from lecture hall wallflower to outspoken student advocate, while Walker navigates John’s shift from an assertive, irreverent prof to a man desperate to save his job and his life. Both in a riveting dance of shifting power and perception.

You have one more chance to see this production of Oleanna: Friday, August 29 at 8 p.m. Check out Unit 102 Theatre’s website for more info about the company, this show and their other productions: http://www.unit102theatre.com/index.html

Coming up: Catching Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Two Gents at Withrow Park on Friday night (they run until Sept 2).

Love, desire & betrayal in Pieces

Cue 6 Productions’ Pieces, by Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman and directed by Jill Harper, opened this past week at Unit 102 Theatre and I had the pleasure of seeing the early evening performance last night.

“Jim and Susan are married” appears under the play’s title in the program and it is this relationship that is at the core of the play. A fifty-something couple, they’ve done a very neat job of living their separate lives together: Jim (James Downing) is a photography professor who travels a lot for work and Susan (Rosemary Dunsmore), also a professor and a self-described “single parent,” manages their home and raises their daughter. All very neat until Jodi (Allison Price) appears at their door. Jim has also been living another separate life.

Jenny So’s set (with Scott Penner as consultant) portrays these separate lives nicely. At first glance, it appears to be a bachelor apartment, with a dining area stage right and a bedroom stage left. But it soon becomes apparent that these are the two worlds of the play – even within the same household – the bedroom being both a part of Jim and Susan’s home, and Jodi’s in other scenes. The worlds of domestic and desire.

And that’s pretty much all I can tell you without including some major spoiler points. What I can tell you is that Pieces is a sexy dynamo of emotion, desire and betrayal – leaving the audience hoping against hope, taking sides and making moral judgments. Right along with the characters.

As an audience member, you won’t be able to sit on the fence about these characters – and that’s due in a large part to an outstanding cast. Rosemary Dunsmore is lovely as the supportive, strong and practical – and also passionate – Susan, the grown-up in her marriage to James Downing’s Jim, a charming and seductive artist/academic with desire to burn. And then there’s Allison Price’s Jodi – a sexy, smart student to Jim’s professor – in many ways a young Susan – captivated and so in love with Jim. Jim and Susan are married. And the revelations that emerge as a result of Jodi’s appearance are heartbreakingly earth-shattering – and put each to the test.

What makes the performance of Pieces particularly impressive is that the five middle scenes that take place in the present never appear in the same order. I had a great chat with producer Allie Lalonde (who’s also the thesp GM – more on thesp later in this post) and Christine Groom (thesp Director of Development) – both before and after the performance – about this unique aspect of the production. Before each show, there is a draw that decides the running order of those scenes – first, final and flashback scenes stay put. This means the actors and stage manager (Melissa  Cameron) must adjust each performance, constantly keeping them on their toes and in the present. And, last night, they did two shows. I know! For the audience, this means impressions will shift as well – and folks can come back and see the show again at a reduced price. For a more detailed description of this aspect of the production, take a look at NOW Magazine’s interview with playwright Illiatovitch-Goldman: http://www.nowtoronto.com/stage/story.cfm?content=186864

Cue 6 Productions is a member of thesp, an organization that provides assistance and resources to indie theatre companies, and info for audiences on theatrical happenings in Toronto. For more info, check here: http://thesp.ca/

Pieces runs until June 9 at Unit 102 Theatre – 376 Dufferin Street, Toronto (west side, just south of Queen St. West). For info and reservations, drop by the Cue 6 site: http://cue6.ca/