What's Next on Stage

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What’s Next on Stage

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Photo by Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda/Torontoist.


Who says you’ve got to wait till summer to get your Fringe on? The Next Stage Festival brings you some of the best performances from Fringes past—both Toronto’s and those in other cities—every night this week. Our intrepid team have compiled a guide to this year’s Next Stage shows to help maximize your festival experience.

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At the Sans Hotel

Suffering from a severe case of dislocated identity.

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Duel of Ages

Eight vignettes on the history of duelling.

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Fairy Tale Ending


The Big Bad Wolf, Goldilocks, and the Bridge Troll try figure out who stole happily ever after.

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The Grace Project: Sick!

A spirited and engrossing showcase of living with an invisible illness.

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The Apology

Four of the Romantic era’s biggest names reimagined as hormonal teenage firebrands

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Eating with Lola

Puppetry is put to good service in this one-woman show.

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Swan Song of Maria

Dance, music, and words conspire to convey the effect Alzheimer’s has on a Toronto couple.

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Tom’s a-Cold

An oceanic expedition turns bad.


At the Sans Hotel

3 STARS

At the Sans Hotel is a bit of fairly experimental theatre—plot and a readily identifiable lead character are notably absent—which succeeds more than it fails, itself no small accomplishment. Inspired by the story of one Cornelia Rau, who was wrongly detained by Australian authorities for nearly a year (they thought she was an illegal immigrant; actually she suffered from severe mental illness), playwright and performer Nicola Gunn weaves not so much a story as an atmosphere, evoking in multiple ways the sense of dislocation that comes from feeling like you are not clearly seen by those around you. The effort lags in the second half, and a prolonged scene in which only Gunn’s legs are visible felt strained and overworked. Gunn’s stage presence is an undeniable force though, and she performs with heart and charm. HD


Duel of Ages

2 STARS

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Plagued as it has been by performer injuries and technical disasters, one could easily mistake this ambitious production from True Edge Productions for a certain wall-crawling musical. Composed of eight (originally nine, pre-injury) vignettes on the history of duelling, Duel of Ages explores man’s obsession with defending his honour using everything from rapiers to katanas. The research alone demonstrates the team’s passion for the subject, but the reach of this production—with twenty-three performers and seven directors—far exceeds its grasp. The tone and quality of the scenes vary wildly from one to another, with lighting and audio misfires further preventing the show from achieving any rhythm. The multimedia dealt a final blow, with visuals meant to tie scenes together indiscernibly dim against the backdrop. (We are glad to hear that some technical glitches have been fixed as the company gets more performances under its belt.) While there are some saving graces to be found—Mike McPhaden’s clever writing in a scene of buffoonish Maritimers with pistols offers a few laughs, while Casey Hudecki‘s swordplay as La Maupin is dazzling, if somewhat lost in an overly busy stage—the production otherwise buckles under its own weight. Stage fighting is a weapon with which the True Edge team are very clearly adept, but when it comes to stagecraft they seem unfortunately unarmed. RW


Fairy Tale Ending

3 STARS

There’s something fishy going on in a land far, far away: the endings to Jill’s favourite fairy tales are changing, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Role Your Own Theatre present Fairy Tale Ending, which finds the Big Bad Wolf, Goldilocks, and the Bridge Troll in a precinct house lineup to figure out who stole happily ever after. Jill is aided by a hard boiled police detective in her investigation, which involves vibrant musical retellings of each bedtime story—with revised endings that see victory for the baddies. Andrew Moyes stands out as the asthmatic, pork-addicted wolf, though each of the villains are overshadowed by the trio of J.P. Baldwin, Carl Swanson, and Mike Wisniowski, who cycle through the roles of pigs, bears, and goats with tireless comic aplomb. Kieren MacMillan’s music direction keeps the toes tapping, complimented nicely by Ashleigh Powell’s kinetic choreography. Fair warning: a jarring downshift from high-tempo energy to a cryptic introspection on mortality towards the end may make for some awkward parental explanations for the all ages set. RW


The Grace Project: Sick!

4 STARS

Playwright Judith Thompson’s is enamoured with enlisting non-professional performers to tell stories we don’t usually see on stage. Her previous play, Body and Soul, featured women over forty-five talking about their experiences; her new collective creation, in partnership with co-creator Lauren Brotman, features fourteen teenagers and young adults who’ve all suffered from traumatic experiences or medical disabilities, most of which don’t come with any visual markers. But rest assured, there’s very little self-pity in this show; it’s a spirited and engrossing showcase for some eloquent and talented people (only a couple of whom have professional training) who have learned to live with their ailments without seeing them as limitations. Krystal Hope Nussbaum, a charmer who has Down Syndrome, starts the show with an energetic dance routine, and a duet between Tanya Rintoul and Adrian Rebucas uses Rintoul’s size and shape to great advantage. There’s plenty of other great ensemble work in the show, and some very moving autobiographical stories; provided all the performers can commit to future runs, we see this show having lots of legs. SF


The Apology

5 STARS

Sex, poetry, jealousy, and politics practically ooze from Rabiayshna Productions’ The Apology, which finds four of the Romantic era’s biggest names reimagined as hormonal teenage firebrands on a polyamorous journey of self-discovery. Having fled England and their parents for the gothic confines of a Swiss castle, the ménage à quatre of Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Claire Clairmont expound upon sexual ideology while crafting their respective works. Darrah Teitel’s writing expertly merges the wit of her subjects with the tawdriness of an average prime time teen drama, while Audrey Dwyer’s direction pulls no punches in exploring the libertarian pansexuality of the characters—and its consequences. The cast is fantastic, with Brendan McMurtry-Howlett channeling the charisma of a warrior-poet as Percy Shelley, Kaitlyn Riordan hesitantly indulging as his intellectual wife Mary, Sasha Cole throwing tantrums as her insecure stepsister Claire Clairmont, and David Beazely interpreting Lord Byron as a laconic proto-hipster. Like the characters, the production seems somewhat preoccupied with its own scandalous cleverness—but with performances this watchable it’s a pretension easily overlooked. RW


Eating with Lola

3½ STARS

Playwright and performer Catherine Hernandez enlisted director Ann Powell of Puppetmongers Theatre to help her use puppetry to tell the story of her Lola, a woman bedridden and unable to care for herself, after a life spent caring for others. Hernandez is a captivating storyteller and performer, and the puppetry is put to good service for her one-woman show. We’d like to see some staging tidied up a bit: props and costume bits are scattered about the stage, and we were occasionally nudged or lightly tread on by Hernandez (some low shelves surrounding the playing space could be a simple solution). Also, a stand for the puppet of Lola could be used more. Hernandez occasionally clips the puppet to her hip with a carabiner, which seems undignified for a character the audience quickly develops much respect for, and attachment to. But these are minor quibbles. The title character’s life story is one that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theatre. SF


Swan Song of Maria

2 STARS

There’s a lot of subject matter crammed into this two hander featuring John Blackwood and Lili Francks (four hander, counting the performers without lines—fine pianist Hilario Duran and The National Ballet’s first soloist Stephanie Hutchinson, who dances the title character). It’s an exploration of Alzheimer’s disease’s effect on a Toronto couple, Joe and Jillian, set against the backdrop of Cuban politics, with both ballet and tap featured prominently. Unfortunately, there’s too much, really, to keep the show moving along and focused: too much circular examination of the themes, and too much text by far. Blackwood’s sonorous voice and easy charm is tested by some of Joe’s overlong speeches, and Francks, a charismatic actor, isn’t given much chance to demonstrate why Jillian has been the bedrock of Joe’s life (though not his vividly remembered muse). She’s forced to vacillate between a nearly catatonic stupor, and a shrill and needy woman obsessed with her declining mental state. In fact, her most engaging moments come when Jillian imitates the voice of Maria, Joe’s old obsession. Hutchinson’s pointe work is first rate, and we liked designer Beth Kates’ performer-manipulated slotted screen, which suggests both a West End Toronto home, and a Cuba from decades past. But the script needs serious edits, and we can’t help but think it would be a more interesting story if the Swan Lake references were more fully explored, rather than the slow debilitation of Jillian’s affliction. SF


Tom’s a-Cold

2½ STARS

Tom’s a-Cold provides a dramatist with no mean fodder. It recounts the final hours of two men lost in the Canadian arctic, stranded members of Sir John Franklin’s lost exploratory expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. The potential for psychological investigation is nearly endless. Sadly, Tom does not live up to this promise, offering characters who are credible in their reactions to this worsening situation but who show no palpable development over the course of the play. We understand no more about them after ninety minutes than we did at the beginning, and our inclination to empathize with their plight is correspondingly stunted. There are some witty lines and the overall effect is very realistic, but there’s not enough life in this tale of death. HD

Showtimes, ticket and pass information, venue maps, and more are all on the Next Stage’s website.

Reviews by Hamutal Dotan, Steve Fisher, and Ryan West. Photos of all performances provided courtesy of the Next Stage Festival.

CORRECTION: January 11, 2011, 8:07 PM Duel of Ages was assigned two stars by its reviewer, not three stars as we originally published. Our apologies for any confusion.

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