Slime: beautifully designed, tangentially told

Playing a character named Godfrey, Teo Saefkow manipulates a fish puppet that's made out of plastic bottle.

Godfrey (Teo Saefkow), who may be part fish, encounters one of his potential relatives in Slime. (Photo by Donald Lee)

She never steps onto the stage, but Shizuka Kai is the star of Slime. Kai designed the set, props, and puppets and her vision is one of the major forces that holds this production together.

In Slime, playwright Bryony Lavery imagines the third international conference on slime. In the world of the play, environmental degradation has created the opportunity for an aggressive type of slime to take over most of the ocean—and this slime is wiping out species as it rampages around the globe. At the conference, all sorts of creatures—mammals, fish, and birds—come together to strategize survival. Human interns fluent in everything from dolphin to sea bird dialects, provide translation. [Read more…]

Victim Impact: an alienating take on a devastating crime

Rashida Samji (played by Name Kanji) takes a phone call in Victim Impact.

Nimet Kanji’s thorough, subtle performance is by far the best thing about Victim Impact. (Photo by Chris Randle)

I could see a couple of doors that promised access to Victim Impact, but I couldn’t open either of them.

This new documentary piece from Theatre Conspiracy explores the biggest Ponzi scheme in British Columbia history. Between 2003 and 2012, Rashida Samji, who is a former notary public, operated a fraud scheme that ripped off more than 200 people and involved over $110 million.

Throughout the evening, which is built on interviews, dramatizations, and verbatim transcripts, we meet: Samji; Arvin Patel, a former financial planner with Coast Capital Savings; and a handful of unnamed victims. [Read more…]

Anne Frank: a far better telling of the story

Fighting Chance Productions. Anne Frank. Havana Theatre.

Playing Anne Frank, Morgan Hayley Smith is disarmingly present.

I thought I didn’t need to see another production of The Diary of Anne Frank. I was wrong. This production from Fighting Chance deepened and revitalized the story for me and introduced me to exciting new talent.

Wendy Kesselman’s 1997 adaption, which is being used here, is vastly superior to the original 1955 stage play. In an effort to be universal, the 1955 version, which was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, largely stripped Anne’s story of its Jewish specificity—which is amazing when you consider that it’s one of the iconic narratives of the Holocaust. “We’re not the only people that have had to suffer,” Anne says in Goodrich and Hackett’s telling. “There have always been people that have had to. . . Sometimes one race . . . sometimes another.” And, in making Anne a spotless martyr, the 1955 play flattens the historical figure.

Kesseleman restores all of that. True to history, Kesselman’s Anne identifies strongly as a Jew and the residents of the attic honour Jewish traditions. True to her diaries, Anne is a complicated figure who is devoted to her father Otto but declares that she doesn’t love her mother Edith: “I can imagine her dying,” she says, “whereas Papa’s death is unimaginable to me.” Kesselman also restores Anne’s full sexuality, including her declaration that that she finds female nudes “so exquisite I have to fight to hold back my tears.” [Read more…]

For fun, visit Nell Gwynn

Player Charles Hart (Emmett Lee Stang) teaches Nell Gwynn (Charlotte Wright) how to act.

Player Charles Hart (Emmett Lee Stang) teaches Nell Gwynn (Charlotte Wright) how to act.

If you’re not having a good time onstage, you shouldn’t be there. Everybody in this cast of Nell Gwynn deserves to be onstage: they are having a fucking laugh riot. And their pleasure is infectious: the evening is infused with joy.

Playwright Jessica Swale shows us her version of Nell Gwynn, the most famous actress of Restoration theatre and the longtime lover of Charles II. Gwynn’s prominence is astonishing because she began her life not just in poverty but in the bawdy house where her dipsomaniac mother toiled. In Swales’s telling, Gwynn herself was a prostitute at one point.

And, of course, prostitution comes in many forms: as Charles’s favourite, Gwynn was no doubt one of the best-paid mistresses in Christendom. And she was unapologetic. In a well-documented historical incident that we see a variation of in the play, Gwynn was travelling through London in her coach when the crowd outside mistook her for a woman who was a rival for Charles’s interest and they started hurling insults. “Good people, you are mistaken,” Gwynn smiled and said. “I am the Protestant whore.” [Read more…]

C’mon, Angie!: ambition—and surprising humour

Reed tries to understand Angie in C'mon, Angie!

Reed (Robert Moloney) doesn’t have a clue and Angie (Kayla Deorksen) is enraged in C’mon, Angie! (Photo by Tim Matheson)

There’s no way to write this review that is both comfortable and honest.

In C’mon, Angie!, Reed and Angie have just had a one-night stand and we witness the fraught morning after—well, the fraught pre-dawn. In two significant ways, Reed failed to get clear consent from Angie. But, for me at least—I’m a cis man—Reed comes across in this production as far more likable and interesting than Angie does.(For the record, my female companion had a similar response.) [Read more…]

40 Days and 40 Nights: It’s personal

Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks embrace in 40 Days and 40 Nights.

In 40 Days and 40 Nights, Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks explore their love—and the concept of love.

I attended 40 Days and 40 Nights last night. It’s an exploration of love from theatre artists Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks, who are romantic partners.

I was going to review it but, after the show, Kim asked me not to, saying that 40 Days is intended as a gift. All shows are gifts, of course, but the larger context of our conversation brought me to the understanding that this is a particularly personal gift and a professional assessment wouldn’t be appropriate.

So I’m not going to review 40 Days and 40 Nights.

I will describe my favourite sequence, though. The audience is sitting around a rectangular playing space. It’s dark, but we all have little, candle-like lights that we can turn on and off. Kim and Daniel ask a series of questions. If our answer to the question is yes, we turn on our lights. If our answer is no, we leave them off.

Kim asks if we have ever yearned for a lifelong love. Everybody in the audience turns on their lights—including all of the young guys sitting across from me. Oh dudes! How tender. I guess I’m not used to men being so open in public.

40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS By Daniel Brooks and Kim Collier. Consulting director Jennifer Tarver. Co-produced by The Electric Company Theatre, Necessary Angel Theatre Company, and TheTheatre Centre. On Thursday, May 31. Continues at Progress Lab 1422 until June 2.



Macbeth Muet: Eggs are harmed

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embrace with blood-stained hands.

In this telling of Macbeth, the absence of dialogue emphasizes the visceral. (Photo by Sophie Gagnon-Bergeron)

Bloody. Good.

In Macbeth Muet, two actors from the Montreal company La Fille du Laitier tell the story of Macbethin about 45 minutes. Although they don’t do it wordlessly, as advertised, they do it without speaking. (At various points, the performers hold up cards, like silent-movie titles, to keep the audience oriented.)

The staging is inventive—sometimes delightful and sometimes thrilling. [Read more…]

The Only Good Indian wanders (in this incarnation)

The Only Good Indian is playing as part of the rEvolver Festival.

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard is one of the four actors taking turns with the solo The Only Good Indian at the rEvolver Festival. (I saw Adele Noronha.)

You know that expression about shooting fish in a barrel? Reviewing The Only Good Indian is like trying to shoot a fish in the ocean from an airplane. At least in the performance I witnessed, The Only Good Indian is hard to get a bead on.

Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard created this solo show for Toronto company Pandemic Theatre, and they are three of the four actors who are performing it in rotation here at the rEvolver Festival. The fourth is local artist Adele Noronha.

Every actor who takes on The Only Good Indian draws on their personal history to create about sixty percent of the text. The forty percent that stays constant deals with multiple issues including occupation, colonization, indigeneity, and otherness. In the framing device, the actor/storyteller—Noronha the night I saw it—dons a suicide vest and tells the audience that she’s going to blow herself up in 30 minutes and take a bunch of us along with her. [Read more…]

Geologic Formations: the overly abstract title is a clue

In Geologic Formations, the company uses fabric to represent myofascia.

The physical imagery in Geologic Formations delivers less than it promises.

Geologic Formations is a show about embodiment, but it is rarely viscerally embodied.

In Geologic Formations, mia susan amir explores the multigenerational psychological and physical effects of trauma. Her saba (grandfather) survived the Bialystok Ghetto in Poland during WW II. But “survived” is a relative word. After the war, amir’s saba threw a knife at his wife’s head while their daughter, amir’s mother, looked on. Amir’s mother terrified the writer by, apparently, trying to strangle her when she was a child. In the text, amir tells us that she suffers physical pain, which she associates with her family’s multigenerational disturbance.

That’s intense material to start with. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this project retreats to heady abstractions. [Read more…]

Les Filles du Roi: a sumptuous reimagining of our history

Julie McIsaac and the chorus in Les Filles du Roi (Photo by David Cooper)

Julie McIsaac and the chorus in Les Filles du Roi (Photo by David Cooper)

Corey Payette and his collaborators are reinventing the story of Canada—in ways that respect First Nations and women. It’s thrilling.

In last year’s musical, Children of God, Payette took on the residential school system. He wrote, directed, and composed that piece, which changed the way I see the world—and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. In Les Filles du Roi, which is also a new musical, Julie McIsaac joined Payette in writing the book and lyrics. Once again, Payette composed the piece and directed it.

Les Filles du Roi features three main characters: Kateri, a young Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman who has been chosen to become Clan Mother; Kateri’s older brother Jean-Baptiste, who trades with the French colonists in their fort; and Marie-Jeanne, a sixteen-year-old woman who has arrived in New France as a fille du roi or nominal daughter of the king. (Between 1663 and 1673, about 800 young women immigrated to New France in a program sponsored by Louis XIV. The idea was to increase the population of the French colony. It worked.)

In Les Filles du Roi, Kateri befriends Marie-Jeanne, Marie-Jeanne falls in love with Jean-Baptiste, and all hell breaks loose. That hell includes violence against both women and the Kanien’kéha:ka. [Read more…]