Drama Club: From Mansfield to Mexico
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Drama Club: From Mansfield to Mexico

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

Theatre Smith-Gilmour put their best foot forward.

Since last week’s Drama Club, two very interesting shows have opened near Queen and Bathurst. Katherine Mansfield opened at Factory on Friday, while Tijuana Cure had its debut at Passe Muraille on Wednesday. Both shows use very minimal props and costumes, often relying on physicality to aid their storytelling. Both shows are rentals from impressive local companies (if ones at different stages in their careers). Theatre Smith-Gilmour, whose current play is a reworking of last year’s The Mansfield Project, have been critical darlings since the 1980s and have wowed audiences with their stage adaptations of Chekhov’s prose fiction. Theatre Smash is a much younger company that’s only been producing plays since 2006, but it has already started getting attention for solid productions such as Norway, Today.
After the cut, Theatre Smith-Gilmour, Theatre Smash, and more theatre news and reviews.

Katherine Mansfield

Things get silly with Dean Gilmour, Michele French, Adam Paolozza, and Claire Calnan.

Although this show has been renamed, don’t go in expecting anything terribly different from last year’s The Mansfield Project, which dramatizes several short stories by the eponymous Modernist author as a series of vignettes. In fact, other than the addition of a new vignette, bringing the total count up to five from four, we didn’t notice any other significant changes at all. Last year, we reviewed the show in the context of a rather mean-spirited Toronto Life article about the state of theatre in the city. As a result, the review perhaps unfairly took the focus off the show itself and the artistry involved therein.
Every actor in the company is an accomplished practitioner of physical theatre, and it shows. Theatre Smith-Gilmour are able to create vivid, gorgeous theatrical pictures with amazingly sparse design and notably deft directing. But we’re still not entirely sure about Katherine Mansfield as a show. The first two vignettes are light and comical, and it’s hard not to find them entertaining. But as the evening wears on, and the vignettes get more serious while no more connected by any kind of plot of framing device, it’s hard to know what exactly the point of what you’re watching is. If there’s no connection between any of these stories, the show starts to seem like a tarted-up sketch comedy night. That said, the artistry really is top-notch; if only they could stick to telling one story. It plays until April 5.

Tijuana Cure

Ieva Lucs has a story to tell. Photo by Martha Haldenby.

We last saw Tijuana Cure at SummerWorks a couple of years ago. While a few small details may have changed, this is basically the same show. The script, written by former Passe Muraille Artistic Director Layne Coleman, is a touching memoir describing a trip to Mexico he took with his late wife, author Carole Corbeil, in a desperate attempt to cure her cancer. It seems strange at first that the one-man show, told from middle-aged Coleman’s perspective, is performed by Ieva Lucs, a rather beautiful young woman who can’t yet be thirty. But only at first.
Lucs gives a fantastic performance as Coleman, at various points stepping out of that role to play Corbeil, or their daughter, or even a Mexican hooker. Her performance is highly physical and not entirely realistic. She uses broad gestures and a somewhat over-the-top performance style, but it never feels clumsy or dishonest. On the contrary, somehow this broadness lets her get right to the heart of the piece. When she feels something, you can’t help but feel it too.
She gets a lot of help from the writing, which is wonderful. Coleman’s script is funny and fearlessly honest. He contrasts his current predicament with previous romantic misadventures (obviously, less harrowing ones), with an openness about his sexuality that is at once shocking and refreshing. The result is a play that is moving, captivating, and often, hilarious. Full marks. It continues until March 28.

On Stage This Week

Another Home Invasion opens at Tarragon’s Extra Space tonight. The new play by Joan MacLeod, who wrote the phenomenal The Shape of a Girl, tells the story of an elderly woman in distress. It plays until April 19.
CanStage‘s much-touted “Berkeley Street Project” continues with Blackbird, a Studio 180 co-production. Studio 180 had a huge hit a year ago with Stuff Happens, and this show has had successful runs in Edinburgh, London, and New York. It runs until April 4.
Tomorrow, for one night only, Buddies presents a special fundraiser performance of Daniel MacIvor’s critically acclaimed one-man show Cul-de-sac. The tickets are pricey, but the cause is a good one, and MacIvor’s shows tend to be rather unmissable.
On Saturday night, you can catch the return of Dishpig at Comedy Bar, which is a show we previously enjoyed at SummerWorks.
Missing continues at Factory. This story of a woman who has disappeared and the detective who tries to find her is directed by the talented David Ferry. It runs until April 5.
Kristen Thomson’s The Patient Hour continues at Tarragon. As usual, Thomson’s characters are thrillingly real and often hilarious, especially as performed by the stellar cast. The story, about a pair of siblings sitting vigil at their mother’s hospital bed, makes a couple of strange twists and turns about three-quarters in that perhaps distract from the simple beauty of the earlier part of the play, but all in all, it’s a very engaging night of theatre. It plays until March 29.
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.