The Next Stage Theatre Festival is back with a diverse and compelling slate of ten plays, all by artists who’ve previously contributed to the Fringe Festival. While a few of these shows have been produced at the Fringe, a number of them are brand new, and you have until January 19 to check out as many as you can.
Mix Mix Dance Collective
Tuesday, January 14: 9:15 p.m.
Thursday, January 16: 9:30 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 5 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 7:30 p.m.
Mix Mix Dance Collective’s high-octane tribute to American street dance culture is the only dance show in the Next Stage lineup, and it does the medium justice and then some. The cast of performers radiate enthusiasm for their work as they take a tour through the dance crazes of the past few decades, from soul train to b-boy. The show kicks off with Kevin Fraser emceeing a tribute to New York ball culture that sets up the underlying themes of race and gender that inspired many of the dance forms to which the collective pay homage. Fraser also establishes a welcome informality, encouraging the audience to cheer, take pictures, and vote for its favourites. A crowded stage led to the occasional bump or misstep, but the infectious high-tempo energy and casual, interactive atmosphere made this performance thoroughly enjoyable.
Wednesday, January 15: 7 p.m.
Thursday, January 16: 5 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 7 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 9:30 p.m.
Praxis Theatre revisits one of Bertolt Brecht’s lesser-known works, which deals with a family trapped in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, and how the conflict challenges their personal beliefs. The imposing matriarch of a fishing family, Señora Carrera, takes up a stance of pacifism and non-involvement following the death of her husband in the war. With two sons yearning for the front lines, a brother trying to gain access to her hidden cache of rifles, and war bearing down all around, Carrera is forced to face some difficult decisions.
Thanks to a script masterfully adapted by Governor General Award winner Nicolas Billon and given life by an excellent cast, the performance packs a powerful punch. Arguments between characters are both powerful and flawed, stemming from heartbreak as much as logic, and peppered with hints of Brecht’s Marxist ideology. The drums of war—created quite literally through some talented live Foley work—emphasize the urgency of the matter at hand, elevating what would otherwise be academic debate to a desperate matter of life and death.
Tuesday, January 14: 6:45 p.m.
Thursday, January 16: 7 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 9 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 5 p.m.
Genres are stacked upon genres in this campy mix of Broadway musical, murder mystery, backstage farce, and film noir. A hard-boiled P.I. is called in when the lead ingenue of a financially strapped would-be Broadway sensation drops dead in the middle of a fundraising performance. Everyone is a suspect, from the churlish understudy to the philosophizing technician to the desperate producer—and all motives and alibis are delivered through song.
The performance is marked by a surprisingly slow build for something packed with so many gimmicks; there are several forgettable songs before things really heat up in the second act. The real strength of the ensemble is displayed when it performs together with live piano accompaniment. The mystery won’t knock your socks off, but the script is packed with enough earnest (if complex) love for the world of show business to keep it endearing. Also, there are plenty of penis puns.
Nobody’s Business Theatre
Thursday, January 16: 5:15 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 9:15 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 6:45 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 9:15 p.m.
The overarching tale from One Thousand and One Nights gets a whimsical, sexy, and often pretty vulgar makeover in Nobody’s Business Theatre’s newest show. For those unfamiliar with the original yarn, it finds the crafty Scheherazade wed to a king known to take a new wife every evening, and behead her every morning. With her sister next on the chopping block, Scheherazade spins a new story each night to entice her murderous husband into letting her live just one more day.
Johnnie Walker’s wonderful script strips the pomp and poetry from the classic tale to reveal and lampoon themes of sex, violence, misogyny, marriage, and gender. The madcap ride features dude-bro kings, lurid orgies, Tarantino homages, and pop-culture references aplenty, all while paying tribute to the complexities of storytelling. The impressive cast takes on a wealth of roles with aplomb, moving freely between big laughs and gut punches. Scheherazade eschews the morals of the original parable and offers no easy answers, but plenty of food for thought.
Tuesday, January 14: 7 p.m.
Wednesday, January 15: 8:45 p.m.
Thursday, January 16: 10 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 4:45 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 7:15 p.m.
A Misfortune is an adaptation of a short story by Anton Chekhov, transformed skillfully into a short opera by Scott Christian (music), Kevin Shea (book and lyrics), and Wade Bogert-O’Brien (lyrics). The story depicts five middle-class friends in pre-revolutionary Russia discussing the inanity of their lives over an evening drink—and with each drink, more sordid secrets are revealed. Sofya (Trish Lindstrom) feels torn between her marriage to her patronizing older husband Andrey (Rejean Cournoyer) and the affections of the broody Ivan (Jordan Till), while Masha (Kaylee Harwood) and Pavel (Adam Brazier) can barely conceal the troubles plaguing their seemingly blissful marriage.
Despite beautiful period costumes and a set made up of antiques, the story is accessible and timeless; it could very easily be about a group of young urban professionals sitting down for an evening of board games, and little of substance would change. A discreetly placed pianist/cellist combo nicely complements a band of talented singers as they explore the frustrations and misunderstandings of love and marriage, in any time period.
Harley Dog Productions
Wednesday, January 15: 9 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 2:30 p.m.
Writer and director Brenley Charkow has taken a number of WWII-era memoirs and amalgamated them into this story of a Jewish-German family that flees the Nazi regime and ends up in Shanghai, one of the only cities in the world at the time that would accept refugees without visas. It’s a fascinating look at East-West culture shock and a little-known aspect of the Holocaust, and the show is atypical for a festival offering, boasting a cast of fourteen, with live music and sumptuous and fluid set design. The story of Ursula, the narrator who spends her formative years in different quarters of downtown Shanghai, is packed with detail; at times, the minutiae come close to overwhelming the story and transforming it into theatrical tourism. But the show never drags, thanks to the lively cast, and especially Ashleigh Hendry, who imbues our narrator with wide-eyed optimism in the face of hardship and tragedy.
Sam S Mullins
Wednesday, January 15: 8.15 p.m.
Thursday, January 16: 6:15 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 8:15 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 6:45 p.m.
Sam S Mullins is among the strongest of the recent crop of storytellers who’ve honed their skills on the Fringe Festival circuit, and he’s developed a casual delivery style for his candid autobiographical tales. For Fatherly, he’s tackled something a little different: a collection of short stories, not all about him, inspired by a mild obsession with what stories he’ll tell (someday) at his father’s funeral service. At a workshop stage, with the tales only loosely connected, Mullins doesn’t have an ending just yet, but his work is always engrossing, and leaves the audience wanting more.
Thursday, January 16: 7:45 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 4:45 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 9:15 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 2:45 p.m.
In Stencilboy and Other Portraits, Lily (Sochi Fried) arrives in an unnamed metropolis, intent on finding an artist to immortalize her in art. She soon finds herself drawn into the orbit of a depressed celebrity painter (Richard Clarkin), who no longer paints, and a jaded graffiti artist (Brandon Coffey), who sprays anonymously at night and spends his days painting over his own work for his city job. To Lily’s frustration, both men become interested in more than an artist-muse relationship. It’s not entirely clear why it’s so important for Lily to be a model for a masterpiece, though both she and the painter harbour dark secrets that threaten to derail the work and their burgeoning relationships. Fried’s Lily is definitely more complex than the usual manic-pixie girl seen in films, and Clarkin and Coffey are both solid, though the most interesting relationship—between the veteran and the emerging artist—and the tension between economic demands and artistic integrity could have been explored in more depth.
God Is in the Dairy
Tuesday, January 14: 9 p.m.
Wednesday, January 15: 6:45 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 2:45 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 5:15 p.m.
Release the Stars is already legendary because of its last show in the summer of 2012, when the reclusive titular Quaids showed up and hung out with the actors and director for the rest of the evening. This updated version incorporates the actors’ stories of their reactions to that brush with celebrity, and while it is a good story, it detracts somewhat from the original plot—which involves an underlying story dealing with two characters (played by Daniel Krolik and Amanda Barker) whose obsession with the Quaid’s obsessions has its own roots. With the actors themselves, their characters, and the Quaids all represented on stage, it’s all become a bit too meta—though the updated projections and staging by director Jack Grinhaus remain clever.
Tuesday, January 14: 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, January 16: 8:45 p.m.
Friday, January 17: 8:45 p.m.
Saturday, January 18: 6:15 p.m.
Sunday, January 19: 4:15 p.m.
Part ecological cautionary tale, part clown turn, and with a recurring interactive component that allows the audience to hurl table Ping-Pong balls as “inclement weather” at performer Stephanie Jung and co-writer/performer Nicole Ratjen, Polar Opposites is a fun bit of anthropomorphic theatre—though the absurdist elements could be more fully explored. Wearing creative nose masks and furred long johns whose patchwork suggests mange, the marooned bears have one meal left before they face utter starvation, and an argument about how it’ll be eaten keeps the seemingly doomed pair on their feet and fighting. The Ping-Pong balls in particular are a clever way of keeping the audience intent and interested, though more variation in the games the bears play to stave off despair would open the show up more.