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culture

Our Favourite SummerWorks 2013 Plays

Looking for plays to see at SummerWorks 2013? Here are reviews of some of the best of them.

The crowd at the SummerWorks opening-night party on Thursday, August 8.

The 2013 SummerWorks Theatre Festival is now in full swing! From Theatre Passe Muraille and the Factory Theatre along Bathurst Street, to site-specific venues in Parkdale, Torontoist has spent the last few days exploring theatrical terrain that far exceeds its geographical boundaries. There are certain dark themes we see emerging—aging, death, memory (or the loss of it), isolation, dinner parties gone wrong—but that doesn’t mean the whole festival has been a downer. Some of the theatrical offerings met the high expectations of our preview picks, while others took us by surprise. We highly recommend checking out the following performances while you still can. Tickets for these buzz-worthy shows will likely go fast.

(Theatre not your thing? Check out the remaining performances in the SummerWorks Music Series.)


Late Company
Suburban Beast and surface/underground theatre
5stars

Photo by Erin Brubacher.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 5 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 2:30 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 10 p.m.
Friday August 16, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 12 p.m.
Sunday August 18, 5 p.m.

VENUE:
Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Avenue)

If it takes a village to raise a child, then who’s to blame when one falls by the wayside? That’s the question lurking at the heart of Jordan Tannahill’s searing, unforgettable drama loosely based on the suicide of Jamie Hubley, the gay teenage son of a Tory councillor in Ottawa. The play imagines a scenario in which the parents of a deceased teen named Joel—a victim of bullying—invite one of his tormentors and his parents over for dinner, ostensibly to speed the healing process. As they begin to share pleasantries and inelegantly navigate around the anger and guilt permeating the room, every word spoken threatens to bring simmering emotions to the surface.

The performances from the entire cast are first-rate, with Rosemary Dunsmore as Joel’s mother, capturing the raw devastation of losing an only child and Richard Greenblatt as Joel’s father, maintaining a politician’s air of civility. The script is smart and observant in its details, particularly in the way the bully, Curtis, is portrayed not as some monster but as a popular kid with a cruel sense of humour. There are no easy answers to be found here, only the shattered realities of two families struggling to put a terrible ordeal in the past.

(Kevin Scott)

This Wide Night
Wide Night Collective
5stars

Photo courtesy of the Wide Night Collective Facebook page.

PERFORMANCES:
Monday August 12, 8 p.m.
Tuesday August 13, 12:30 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 3 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 5:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

Bound inside a space within a space, This Wide Night‘s staging hints at the isolation and pain of living in a self-created prison. Set entirely within a one-room apartment, the play presents a story of women surviving day to day in a post-incarceration world that offers far less freedom and possibility than they had hoped for. The framing narrative is simple enough: the recently released, matronly Lorraine (played by Kristen Thompson) moves in with her younger ex-cellmate Marie (Maggie Blake).

Every awkwardly silent pause and hesitant, unpolished word brings the audience into the flow of a relationship that is deep and tenuous all at once. The characters in This Wide Night desperately need to hold onto friendship in the face of everything that would erode it.

The Wide Night Collective’s preparation including working with Elizabeth Fry Toronto, a society that helps women transition back into society after being released from prison. This Wide Night aims to create sympathy and understanding for women like Lorraine and Marie, where none might otherwise exist. The emotional power of the performance goes well beyond that.

(Mark Kay)

The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw
Black Hammer Group

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Photo courtesy of Black Hammer Group.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 9 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 4 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 4 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

A bluegrass riff on the familiar Faustian tale, this rousing musical, by Peter Anderson and John Millard, details the deal the titular character makes in exchange for supernatural banjo skills. Following the death of his father, Weedy longs to defy his stern mother’s wishes by leaving behind his farming lifestyle in pursuit of musical stardom. Enter the sinister Mr. Fleas—who isn’t the devil, but works for him—and his faithful Hellhound.

With the backing of a small but stellar band led by Millard on banjo, the superb cast provides gorgeous harmonies. In an innovative twist, Randi Helmers transforms from a Hellhound into a tantalizing seductress simply by inverting her costume into a luxurious fur coat. The whole dispute culminates, as it must, with an epic banjo duel between Weedy and Fleas during which the voices of the townsfolk reach a cathartic crescendo.

(Kevin Scott)

Murderers Confess at Christmastime
Outside the March Theatre Company
20111004Raystars 4andahalf24

Tony Nappo and Amy Keating co star in Murderers Confess At Christmastime  Detail of a photo by Keith Barker

Detail of a photo by Keith Barker.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 10 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 5 p.m.
Friday August 16, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 12 p.m.

VENUE:
Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Avenue)

Outside the March presents a darkly engaging holiday triptych: a woman (Amy Keating) is held prisoner by a cross-dressing killer (Harry Judge), secrets unravel between a mayoral candidate (Aaron Willis) and his wife (Candace Berlinguette) after the former is found in bed with a drug dealer (Jeff Ho), and a shy wheelchair-bound man (Tony Nappo) yearns for his coworker (Nancy McAlear). Each tale unfolds in the days leading up to Christmas, using the stress and loneliness that can accompany the holidays to light three emotional powder kegs. Jason Chinn’s raw, angry script doesn’t let up for a moment, and it’s complimented by Simon Bloom’s kinetic direction. Nappo is particularly great as tragic, romantic Elliot, struggling to find some holiday happiness in the face of unrequited love.

(Ryan West)

Family Story
Birdtown & Swanville
20111004Raystars 4andahalf24

Cara Gee and Kaleb Alexander in Family Story  Photo by James Di Donato

Photo by James Di Donato.

PERFORMANCES:
Monday August 12, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday August 13, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 7:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 9:30 p.m.
Sunday August 18, 2:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Gallery 1313 (1313 Queen Street West)

Writer and director Aurora Stewart De Peña inherited her family’s pictures, letters, and records when her grandfather passed away. In researching her own roots, she hit upon the idea for a show about a particularly oddball family line, and a girl (Nika Mistruzzi) who questions her connections to her family and lineage. At Gallery 1313, Birdtown & Swanville have been able to create a singularly inventive performance space, surpassing even the wrestling ring the company built for 2010′s Dead Wrestlers. The gallery walls and pedestals are covered with functional pieces of artwork that double as props, all of which are used in the show. The members of the nine-person ensemble all dig into some over-the-top characters, and they even manage some surprising dance sequences in the rather close quarters.

(Steve Fisher)

nanny: maroon warrior queen
anitafrika dub theatre
4 Stars

Image courtesy of anitafrika dub theatre.

PERFORMANCES:
Thursday August 15, 7:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 5 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 2:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Lower Ossington Theatre Studio (100A Ossington Avenue)

Acclaimed actor, poet, and playwright d.bi.young usually has a lot to say in her performances, but her latest piece, nanny: maroon warrior queen, is all about hearing from her audiences. Through the eyes of a mythical ancestral Jamaican figure named Nanny—who fled slavery and resisted Spanish and British colonization—young challenges her audience’s modern notions of captivity, fear, and duty to ancestors.

The show breaks many conventions, including the expectation that audience members are passive observers. When Nanny addresses the crowd, she actually expects an answer. Latecomers are welcomed in during the performance, albeit under Nanny’s attentive gaze. And after the performance, young stays to facilitate a discussion and feedback about Nanny and her alter-ego Efua (also played by young), a modern Jamaican woman whose enslavement is psychological rather than physical.

young admitted during the discussion that the piece is a work in progress, and that her attempts at “breaking down the theatrical space” are as scary for her as for her audience. She hopes the piece will evolve and continue in a more communal, interactive venue than the Lower Ossington Theatre. Even so, those interested in an engaging, provocative theatre experience should go see Nanny and share in her collective exploration of social justice.

(Desmond Cole)

Delicacy
Theatre Brouhaha
4 Stars

Photo by Zaiden.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 7:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 12 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 5 p.m.

VENUE:
Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Avenue)

Kat Sandler’s consistently hilarious comedy about two couples meeting for a night of swinging sex also serves as an insightful examination of the virtues and pitfalls of relationships. The upscale and conservative Tanya and Mark, an interior decorator and writer by trade respectively, host the free-spirited Colby and Len at their fancy apartment after meeting them at a swingers club. It’s all fun and games at the outset, as they get to know each other by trading playful barbs and asking questions like, “If you could be any piece of furniture, what would you be?”

But with each bottle of wine imbibed, hostilities become harder to conceal as layers are slowly peeled back on their respective relationships. The fantastic young actors all sink their teeth into the witty and acerbic dialogue, helping to turn what at first glance may appear to be generic characters into fully formed personalities. Although Delicacy is neither an indictment of marriage nor an endorsement of extra-marital dabbling, a memorable evening spent at this party certainly yields important questions about the deep affection that keeps people together, and the insecurities that pull them apart.

(Kevin Scott)

Tender Napalm
Phantasmagoria Collective
4 Stars

Kyle Purcell and Amelia Sargisson in Tender Napalm  Photo by Kyle Purcell and Chloe Purcell

Photo by Kyle Purcell and Chloe Purcell.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 6 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 3:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 1 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

For the couple squaring off in Tender Napalm, love is some cross between a battlefield, a playground, a desert island, and a fever dream. Actors Kyle Purcell and Amelia Sargisson throw down fierce and engrossing performances as a man and woman facing both their worst fears and the worst parts of each other. British playwright Philip Ridley’s poetic script glides in and out of fantasy to relay a story of love in the aftermath of loss, with its occasionally overwrought lyricism balanced by the actors’ no-holding-back physicality—some of the slaps sound like they hurt. The small venue serves the material well, bringing you right inside the blast radius of this Molotov cocktail of pain and intimacy.

(Eleni Deacon)

iShow
Les Petites Cellules Chaudes
4stars

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 3 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 5:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 12:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 8 p.m.

VENUE:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

It’s difficult to guess what’s in store when you sit down in the audience at the beginning of iShow. Twelve members of the Montreal-based cast sit around a long table covered in laptops and AV wires, a scene that looks something like the Last Supper, if it had occurred in an internet cafe. Their screens are projected above, showing them in the midst of several video-chat sessions.

What unfolds is difficult to summarize or explain, but incredible to watch. The performers deliver poetry, choreography, and confessionals through the lens of cyberspace. They create YouTube symphonies, reenact memes, and play dramatic scenes with strangers on the internet. There are moments of hilarity and moments of deep, moving pathos. There are many, many genitals. There are technical difficulties, but the experience is so fascinating (and the group’s glee in triumph so infectious) that the snags come across as not only natural, but necessary. Due to the show’s nature it will never be the same twice, but it’s guaranteed to be thought provoking.

(Ryan West)

7 Important Things
STO Union and Canada’s National Arts Centre in association with Wakefield Art Collective
4 Stars

Photo by Andrée Lanthier.

PERFORMANCES:
Monday August 12, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday August 13, 4 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 1:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 9 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

Hippie-turned-punk-turned-barber George Acheson bares his vulnerability for this powerful re-staging of his own past. At 16, Acheson was snipped out of his father’s life after refusing to cut his (that is, Acheson’s) long hair. It was the first stand in a decades-long journey through the happiest highs and blackest corners of two radical political movements. Acheson’s tale is knit together through a series of timed, off-the-cuff interviews and scripted segments, with a few oversized props and goofy staging gimmicks serving to magnify rather than sensationalize his emotional turning points. While the subject matter could easily have rehashed worn-out clichés, Acheson and his co-writer/performer Nadia Ross ground their story of idealism and regret in frank (and often very funny) performances. During his discussions with Ross, Acheson reaffirms his hippie values and condemns irony—yet the show has enough irreverence to make it feel distinctly contemporary.

(Eleni Deacon)

The Art of Building a Bunker
or Paddling the Canoe of My Self Down the River of Inclusivity and Into the Ass of the World

Quip Take
4 Stars

Adam Lazarus. Detail of a photo by Emma McIntyre.

PERFORMANCES:
Monday August 12, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday August 13, 7 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 9:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 2 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 4:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble Street)

An earlier (and shorter, especially title-wise) version of Adam Lazarus’s solo show was called I, Racist. And sure, his repressed character, Elvis, forced to take a week-long “sensitivity seminar” to keep his job, has plenty of casually racist observations pinging around (but unspoken) in his head. Working with co-creator Guillermo Verdecchia, Larazus has given his main character a pretty fascinating character arc, as he makes increasingly desperate attempts to game the seminar and avoid revealing the underlying root causes for his bitterness and mistrust. It’s an engrossing spectacle.

(Steve Fisher)

Zero Visibility
The AMY Project
4stars

Photo courtesy of Claire Calnan.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 5 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday August 17, 5 p.m.

VENUE:
Lower Ossington Studio (100A Ossington Avenue)

A record-breaking Toronto snowstorm serves as the backdrop for six interconnected vignettes, written and performed by the six talented young women that make up this year’s AMY (Artists Mentoring Youth) Project. Each performer was tasked with bringing a story of her own to the narrative, resulting in several deeply personal insights into the difficulties and insecurities faced by teenagers in our media-saturated, image-centric world. The collaborative nature of the project—with each member not only performing in her own story, but taking up several ancillary roles in the others—reinforces the message of support and inclusivity that both the AMY Project and the production itself emphasize.

(Ryan West)

Broken
Ramshackle Theatre
stars 4

Photo courtesy of SummerWorks.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday August 13, 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday August 14, 6 p.m.
Thursday August 15, 8:30 p.m.
Friday August 16, 1 p.m.
Sunday August 18, 1 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

It’s difficult not to give an intensely personal review of a play as personal as Broken. Plenty of us have had grandparents whose minds gave out well before their bodies did. Familiarity with Alzheimer’s Disease increases the sting of this play’s dread and sorrow. As a one-man show based, to a certain degree, on performer and author Brian Fidler’s own experiences with losing his grandfather, Broken risks being unbearably sad.

The use of what the company calls “the puppetry of objects” adds a layer of fascination that helps the audience through what could otherwise be an entirely crushing experience. Objects as simple as an old tripod see several uses throughout the play—a technique that twins economy with creativity. Fidler shows a deft hand with images as he uses a slide projector and screen to show his grandfather’s old photographs, manipulating the light to add layers of meaning to the pictures.

Everything combines to allow the audience to empathize with Fidler and acknowledge, even if only for a moment, the relief of sharing.

(Mark Kay)

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