Drama Club: Patient is a Virtue
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Drama Club: Patient is a Virtue

Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.

Todd Thomson gets serious in Tarragon’s The Patient Hour.

Playwright and performer Kristen Thomson wowed audiences and critics alike with her play (and subsequent film) I, Claudia, a touching portrayal of an “official pre-teen” girl trying to cope with her parents’ divorce. Tonight, her new play, The Patient Hour, has its world premiere at Tarragon Theatre (where it runs until March 29). The new work is also about family, only this time, the action centres on a brother and a sister sitting vigil at their mother’s deathbed. In a case of life imitating art, the brother is played by Kristen’s real-life brother Todd Thomson.
After the fold, we talk to Todd about the play, and the difference between the Toronto’s and Vancouver’s theatre scenes. Plus, Miss Julie: Freedom Summer gets reviewed, and even more theatre stuff!

Todd Thomson on The Patient Hour

Thomson chats up co-star Liisa Repo-Martell.

Torontoist: The Patient Hour explores the relationship between a brother and a sister. What was it like to work on a show like this with your own sister?
Todd Thomson: I have always wanted to work with my sister. I admire and respect her as a person and performer/writer. I feel I understand the comedic and emotion qualities of the script because we know each other so well. Also, during rehearsals I felt fortunate to be able to ask “the playwright” very specific and intricate questions about the script without feeling like I was burdening her.
Did any parallels come up along the way in terms of sibling relationships?
I think parallels exist in terms of the playful/teasing nature of the relationship. At one point Laura says “he’s probably the only person who can make me laugh.” And while I know that many people make Kristen laugh, I also know that I definitely make her laugh.
Generally, you work as an actor in Vancouver. What do you think the difference is between Toronto and Vancouver’s theatre scenes?
I do not know the Toronto theatre scene very well, as this is my first show here, so I am probably not the best person to ask. However, I am a huge proponent of Canadian theatre and know that theatre in Canada can be some of the best theatre in the world. Toronto has “mega-productions” that Vancouver does not have and while I’m sure Toronto has an amazing independent theatre scene, I know Vancouver’s indie companies (Boca Del Lupo, Theatre Replacement, Electric Company, Pound of Flesh), create amazingly original and challenging theatre. I love vibrancy and the support of the theatre scene in Vancouver.
This play has an interesting relationship with the Fourth Wall. The audience essentially becomes a character in the play that the actors address, but without breaking out of the play’s narrative. What kind of challenges come up from staging a play in this way?
The challenges exist in not actually seeing how people are reacting to the show. During one of my monologues I saw a man yawning and was less than enthralled by this reaction. So, it forces me to really concentrate on my objectives to avoid being distracted. I feel it is an opportunity to invite the audience into the heart of the play. I hope it makes people listen more and feel that they are an integral part of the play.

Miss Julie: Freedom Summer

Miss Julie gets her freak on. Photo by David Cooper.

During the month of February, many theatres in town like to put on a play that in some way celebrates Black History Month. Factory’s Toronto The Good deals with racial profiling, Tarragon’s Ubuntu is a celebration of South African culture, and CanStage has decided to mount the classic Naturalist play Miss Julie, by Swedish master August Strindberg. That last one probably doesn’t make too much sense until you hear that the version being performed right now at the Bluma Appel Theatre (until March 7) is a new adaptation written by Stephen Sachs, which moves the melodrama from nineteenth century Scandinavia to 1964 Mississippi. Miss Julie is now the white mistress of the house, while John and Christine are her black servants, trying to decide whether to register to vote. Other than that, the show follows the same basic narrative of the original. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
The servant characters are somewhat easier to relate to in more contemporary outfits, and Raven Dauda’s Christine has nice chemistry with Kevin Hanchard’s John. You can’t take your eyes off Caroline Cave’s Miss Julie, but this is mostly because she prances around the stage like Rue McClanahan in that episode of Golden Girls where Blanche goes insane. She’s captivating, if kind of exhausting, to watch, and she finds a lot of comedy in the role that you don’t often see brought out.
Clearly, a lot of writers are fascinated by Miss J, and anxious to shoehorn her into an historical setting. Only a few months ago, Tara Beagan’s Miss Julie: Sheh’mah, moved the action to a First Nations reservation school. But although the play has a lot to say about class and The Other, it also has a lot to say about women, most of it misogynist. If we’re supposed to feel for John as a victim of institutional racism, it would help if he weren’t as crazy an asshole as Julie herself. And there’s something weird about celebrating Black History Month with a play that is so down on women, regardless of their race.

On Stage This Week

Toronto the Good continues at Factory Theatre. The new play about racial profiling is written by notable Toronto playwright Andrew Moodie. It runs until March 1.
Soulpepper’s version of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties continues at the Young Centre until March 21. James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, and Tristan Tzara cross paths in a Swiss library before the Russian Revolution. It’s a very entertaining night of theatre, with terrific performances by Diego Matamoros, David Storch, and Jordan Pettle, but Stoppard’s clever script has a tendency to start seeming less like a play, and more like a Master’s thesis presentation.
Ubuntu (The Capetown Project) plays at Tarragon. This collective creation is a collaboration between South African and Canadian artists and features Holly Lewis and Michelle Monteith. Runs until March 1.