If one thing can be learned from the seedy-yet-tragic life of John C. Holmes, it’s that bigger is not always better. So don’t dismiss the SummerWorks Theatre Festival (which opens today) as a month-late, poor cousin of the Toronto Fringe simply because its complete playbill boasts only 40 shows, rather than Fringe’s 140. There are a few reasons why SummerWorks is a grower and not a shower. For one thing, while successful Fringe applicants are chosen through random lottery, SummerWorks is entirely juried, which means that each and every script and proposal is read by a committee who decides which shows will be a part of the festival. And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean any SummerWorks show you see will be better than any Fringe show you see, but the smaller festival (which is housed at Factory, Passe Muraille and Tarragon) is often a safer bet in the theatre festival crapshoot. To help you out a bit, Torontoist has enlisted three of its most theatre-savvy dudes to give you their picks for the fest.
Jayson Young’s Picks
• Ruth Maduc-Jones and Erika Hennebury have co-written the ecstatics, described as “America’s Next Top Model meets Carnivàle.” Neon nuns with eating disorders strive for perfection: the luckiest ones turn up dead.
• The majestic scenery of Niagara Falls provides the backdrop for Hard Ways, written by and starring Jason Cadieux (whom film buffs may recall as dreamy Young Simon in John Greyson’s gay Québécois fantasia Lilies). Awash in gambling addictions and trouble with customs officers, we’re assuming Jason is on the American side…
• Tijuana Cure poses a poignant question: does hope truly stem from love, or organic food? In the cancer ward of a Mexican hospital, husband and wife reminisce about marijuana, bike rides and young romance in this script by Layne Coleman, who lost his own wife, writer Carole Corbeil, to cancer in 2000.
• A Weekend in the Country (pictured) may evoke tranquility, sure, but when a bunch of friends discovers a corpse under their host’s couch, things get a little more disturbing… and hilarious! Watch as a group of seven explores issues of art and ego.
Soloman Lam’s Picks
•Terminating: a little-known work by Tony Kushner (of Angels In America fame). The full title of this play is Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence. So expect dizzying, manic wordplay from loquacious neurotics. The New York Times once called the play a celebration of the “limits and limitlessness of language,” but we’re more excited about the premise: a gay man in love with his lesbian shrink.
• Muhammed of Yorkville (pictured): if Brad Pitt and Madonna like hanging out in Yorkville, one could imagine that the Prophet Muhammed would, too. But when an art gallery in Yorkville decides to display a painting of the Prophet, freedom of expression and religious sensitivity come head to head and duke it out in front of Sassafraz. Written by Torontoist contributor Johnnie Walker, the play is inspired by true events that have nothing to do with Yorkville.
• Nelly Boy is an exploration of gender, hatred and conformity, wrapped in a mystery about how a 15-year-old ends up running naked along the side of a highway. While Torontoist finds this a refreshing and underrated pastime, we suspect that playwright Dave Deveau has other ideas up his sleeve.
• The Trial of Thumbelina: remember the tale of Thumbelina? The girl no bigger than a thumb, who got alternatively kidnapped and harassed by various garden critters? Now imagine Thumbelina 100 years in the future, in a holding cell at the Hague, waiting to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. It’s a new, twisted take on an old (and rather psychadelic) tale, written by Dora-winning actor Gord Rand.
Johnnie Walker’s Picks
• Mexico City & Yogyakarta is written by Alan Dilworth and Hannah Moscovitch (Moscovitch wrote previous SummerWorks hits The Russian Play and the fabulous Essay). This show is actually two different plays, one set in Mexico and one in Indonesia, that deal with similar postcolonial themes. Compilation plays are becoming a serious theatre festival trend, and if this show is anywhere near as good as The Gladstone Variations, it will definitely be worth checking out.
• Fabuloso is a very mysterious-sounding play about a middle-aged man whose life is turned upside down after a childhood friend visits. It’s also an opportunity for hardcore Da Vinci’s Inquest fans (we know you’re out there) to see Da Vinci himself (a.k.a. Nicholas Campbell; pictured) treading the boards.
• HONK! If You Can Hear Me! is a pretty cool-sounding offsite piece being performed in the parking lot of Royal St. George’s. It involves people in different cars communicating through cellphones, apparently with “symphonic” results. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the description of this show and The Autoshow, last summer’s BYOV Fringe hit which was also performed in the same parking lot.
• Finer Noble Gases is a dark comedy about a struggling NYC band. Torontoist is particularly intrigued by its warnings, which include: “Live Rock n’ Roll, Mature Themes and Partial Nudity.” Sounds like a good time to us!
SummerWorks is somewhat less frantic than the Fringe, and that’s a good thing. You can have a really nice weekend afternoon sitting in the Factory courtyard, having a beer and a cookie while chatting with your fellow theatregoers about which plays are worth seeing and schmoozing with the actors from the shows you liked.
Top photo by snap0395 from Flickr.