Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.
Genet boys break through the barriers. Photo by Tavishe Coulson.
Jaded queers will complain that Pride has become little more than a SKYY Vodka ad come to life, a commercial, de-politicized faux-hedonistic throw-back that gives people an excuse to have sex with strangers and pretend they’re still teenagers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But for those of you who are over the parade and think Church Street is a snore, but still want to celebrate Pride, there are a few cool events, hidden away in the festival’s abysmal website. And yes, Drama Clubbers, there is theatre to see!
Blond bombshell aficionados will want to check out Hey Marilyn, a new musical that tells the story of Ms. Monroe. It opens tomorrow night at the Jane Mallett and runs until June 26. And, of course, there’s a bevy of events happening at Buddies, from comedy, to music, to solo performance, to burlesque, to who-knows-what. But one of the most interesting theatre events at Pride is far away from the gaybourhood: for the next four nights, lemonTree theatre and Ten Foot Pole Productions will be performing Deathwatch, a play by everyone’s favourite kleptomaniac, Jean Genet, in the basement of Ossington’s XPACE gallery. In typical Genet style, the basement plays the part of a jail that houses three prisoners, all mysterious dudes with names like “Green Eyes” and “Maurice” who have complicated relationships with each other. Needless to say, there are sexy results.
After the fold, we interview Deathwatch actor Cole J. Alvis, plus more theatre news and reviews.
Cole J. Alvis: incarcerated on Ossington Ave. Photo by Tavishe Coulson.
Torontoist: Ten Foot Pole Productions’ mandate is to produce works about subjects that “polite people wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.” What makes Deathwatch impolite/untouchable?
Alvis: As an all-queer collective, we were particularly interested in accessing the world Jean Genet was painting in his time. We have the rights to the 1954 British translation (the only one in English available for production), published in a time when misogyny and racism in plays was alive and well. However, the queer content Genet intended continues to be censored today. With creative staging we’ve put the sex back in without being gratuitous.
You perform this play in the basement of XPACE. What kind of challenges arise performing a play in a non-traditional venue? What’s exciting about it?
Watch your head! There’s structural beams that reduce the height of the basement significantly. When we started rehearsing in the space I was leading the head bump count but last I checked our 6′ 3″ director had surpassed my tally. We’ve taken the necessary precautions for safety because the space is worth it. As soon as we saw the exposed brick and low ceiling we knew this would be our jail cell. The environment XPACE offers, combined with the actor/audience relationship we’ve created, turns our staging of this play into an event.
Deathwatch is listed as an official Pride event. What makes Genet relevant to a Pride audience? What do you think Jean Genet would have to say about the Toronto’s Gay Pride Festival?
We formed this collective out of the need to make an event we’d like to attend during Pride. We think of ourselves as the west-end answer to all the line-ups on Church street. I suspect a Pride Festival wouldn’t really be Genet’s thing. But if I heard he was going to be in town the first place I’d take him (after our show) would be the Pride Stages. The artists they have performing there represent the diversity Genet, the original outsider, would appreciate.
You recently directed Ten Foot Pole’s BALLS! at the Lower Ossington Theatre, and now you’re back doing another show on the same strip. What do you think about Ossington’s recent trendification? And, is there a place for theatre in between the hip bars and restos?
Absolutely, there’s a place. The Theatre Centre has been putting out explosive alternative work at the corner of Queen and Dovercourt for years. The success of the Ossington Strip is Richard Florida Creative Class intro theory—it’s up to the artists and businesses in the area to work together to harness the creative potential that exists there. Jean Genet is incredibly sexy to west-end hipsters as well as long time enthusiasts. Dropping his name opened doors for us at XPACE and Pride Toronto alike.
Deathwatch runs until June 20.
On Stage This Week
Nancy Palk: one mean mother. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Soulpepper’s Awake and Sing! opened last night at the Young Centre. Clifford Odets’ drama tells the story of a depression-era New York family coping with financial woes, and their own personal shortcomings. Sort of like a Jewish version of high-school essential A Raisin in the Sun, only funnier. And humour is the real joy of this show, which would otherwise veer dangerously into mope-a-thon territory. Scheming, shrewish mother Bessie (Nancy Palk at her absolute shrillest) considers herself the head of the family, which is easy when her husband is such a pushover. She terrorizes her father, an aging Marxist and would-be activist from the Old Country, and her nebbish, milquetoasty son, who has the audacity to date outside of the family’s religion. And when her flashy daughter Hennie gets knocked up, Bessie does whatever it takes to make sure her Hennie gets married, and stays married. Then, things get worse. But although the plot—jam-packed with ambiguous suicide, thwarted ambitions, and the general idea that happiness is an impossibility—does seem to have more clouds of grey than any Russian play could guarantee, Odets’ fiercely witty script buoys the production up, never allowing it to wallow in the maudlin. The cast is very capable (if noticeably WASP-heavy for this show), and Ari Cohen is particularly compelling as family friend Moe, who’s always had a “yen” for Hennie. If you can get over the fact that there are times when the Brooklyn dialects don’t quite sound consistent with each other, you’re in for a pretty interesting show. An American classic you probably didn’t study in high school.
Body & Soul, a new show commissioned by Dove (does that make it a “soap opera”?) and created by acclaimed Canadian playwright Judith Thompson through collaboration with an all-female collective, continues at Tarragon’s Extra Space. The play is performed by a cast of twelve forty-nine to seventy-five-year-old non-actors who share their real-life stories with the audience. It runs until June 21.
Soulpepper’s production of Joe Orton’s Loot opens tomorrow night at the Young Centre. The British farce about graverobbing runs until August 1.
The second remount of Wajdi Mouawad’s super-popular Scorched continues at the Tarragon Theatre. This combination of foreign tragedy and tawdry family soap opera has been greatly lauded, and this a wonderful chance to try to catch it if you’ve missed its previous sold-out runs. It plays until June 27.