Drama Club: Ontario Hydra
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Drama Club: Ontario Hydra

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

Photo by Colin O’Connor.

Crows Theatre has Toronto under siege. First, there was the company’s much-ballyhooed remount of I, Claudia, which has just been extended due to popular demand. Then, last weekend, the company hosted The Directors’ Showcase & Exchange, which involved a fascinating panel discussion by some of the country’s most prolific and accomplished theatre directors. It also featured the performance of several plays, including a reading of Caryl Churchill’s controversial new work Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza. Written in January as a response to the recent attack on Gaza, the ten-minute piece has been highly acclaimed by some, and dismissed as anti-Semitic propaganda by others, including B’nai Brith, which tried to protest the work’s being performed in Toronto. We found the piece powerful, tragic, and ultimately very human, less interested in pointing fingers than drawing attention to the complexity and the sadness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Controversy successfully courted, the company now moves on to yet another new show: Eternal Hydra, opening tomorrow night at Buddies. Featuring a fabulous cast (David Ferry, Karen Robinson, Liisa Repo-Martell), the play, by Anton Piatigorsky, is a mystery about a manuscript. Repo-Martell plays an academic who discovers a long-lost novel by fictional author Gordias Carbuncle that is, supposedly, a work of staggering genius. But the discovery only makes way for a string of authorship debates and a serious look at the nature of “genius.”
After the fold, Torontoist chats with Eternal Hydra director, and Crows Theatre Artistic Director, Chris Abraham. Plus, more theatre news and reviews.

Abraham Thinkin’

Photo by Ian Jackson.

Torontoist: The Eternal Hydra is your third (we think?) collaboration with writer Anton Piatigorksy. What’s it like to develop that kind of relationship with another artist? Is Eternal Hydra the logical progression of the other work you’ve done together, or does it come from a new and different place?
Chris Abraham: It’s actually the fourth play of Anton’s I’ve directed. The last play was The Offering here in Toronto. We have also spent some time over the last few years working on a collaborative piece about friendship, Moby Dick and the trials of artistic collaboration—it’s called An untitled work in progress partly based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or The Whale. It’s on the back burner right now, but the piece sprang for three years of recorded conversations and, strangely, led us to South Africa and an investigation of the South African response to the HIV epidemic. It’s something I’d like to get back to in the future. At its core, it’s really about our friendship and the tensions in our personal and creative relationship. We really enjoy working with each other, but it’s a dance for sure. It’s not that we really ever fight about anything, but we do have very different perspectives on the plays we work on together. My focus is usually on creating and refining “situation” with attention on the unconscious or behavioural narrative of a scene, while Anton is more attentive to the structural framework and language of a piece. But even this distinction isn’t really that true anymore. We both really enjoy exploring Anton’s writing with actors. I think we’ve taken a lot from each other and now understand each other’s process and know how to build on each other’s strengths. I think Eternal Hydra is in a continuum of our collaboration, even though it was a piece that was originally commissioned by the Stratford Festival and one I wasn’t initially involved in. The Stratford production of the one-act version was the first time that one of Anton’s plays had been directed by someone else—in this case Andrey Tarasiuk. A few years after the Stratford production, Anton approached me about working with him on a full-length version of the piece and we began talking seriously about it then—that was about 3 years ago now.
This is a show you’ve been working on for a while, and that has developed and grown over a series of years. How has the work changed, and what informed those changes?
Yes, the piece has grown and changed quite a bit, but the core of the piece is the same. Anton and I have really benefited from the great ensemble of actors who have worked on the piece for the last 2 years with us—David Ferry, Liisa Repo-Martell, Sam Malkin and Karen Robinson. Their contribution to the piece is significant, and their investment in the work and its intentions is palpable in their performances. I think it’s really been the love and attention of our actors, the public workshop process and Anton’s continued curiosity about the dramatic possibilities of his play that have helped the play to stay alive and growing over a longish development period.
This play is all about authorship and authenticity, which are both issues that continue to make headlines, whether in relation to new theories about Shakespeare’s plays, or James Frey/JT LeRoy-esque hoaxes. How important do you think these ideas should be in the world of art and literature?
I’m not really sure how important they are—though I guess I feel a little like Gordias Carbuncle from the play, who says “all literature is a phyllo dough of theft”. I engage a little more around Carbuncle’s passion, hunger and need to create great art at any cost . I’m intrigued by the way the characters in the play and for that matter, myself, are drawn to these narcissistic creatures. I think we all want and need for there to be geniuses out there in the world—though it’s interesting to me what we are willing to sacrifice for those anointed few.
Eternal Hydra opens tomorrow night and runs until May 31.

On Stage This Week

The remount of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View continues at Tarragon. Mitch and Liz are two women who have a passionate sexual encounter. Thing is, neither of them are lesbians, or even bisexual, and both believed they were being seduced by the other. Years later, they reconnect, developing an intense, and almost romantic, friendship. This crypto-queer love story is brought beautifully to life by actors Caroline Gillis and Tracy Wright, both of whom have different, unusual energies that complement each other in a very appealing way. The very first beat of the play is intentionally slow, to the point of tedium. It’s a strange choice, and a funny way to kick off a show. However, once the story starts going, and the actors start talking to each other, it’s hard not to go along with them. It plays until May 24.
Michael Rubenfeld and Sarah Stanley’s The Book of Judith opened last night. Performed on a tent on the front lawn of CAMH, the play employs a choir of people will various disabilities to tell the story of Judith Snow, a quadriplegic author and advocate. It runs until May 31.
CanStage’s production of Doubt, a Parable continues at the Bluma Appel. And yes, it is the inspiration for that movie. It plays until May 30.
Jonathan Garfinkle’s House of Many Tongues continues at Tarragon. A magical-realist take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it runs until June 3.
I, Claudia‘s run at the Young Centre was just extended until May 30. It tells the story of a young girl trying to cope with her parents’ recent divorce, but what makes this show different than your typical pre-teen melodrama is that Thomson portrays Claudia while wearing a big, white latex mask. As well as the titular teen heroine, Thomson also plays Claudia’s grandfather, a bird enthusiast with a sweet-tooth; Drachman, the immigrant custodian at her middle school who was once a respected theatre director in his native “Bulgonia”; and Leslie, the “other woman” her father is about to marry—each with their own unique mask. Thomson skips back and forth between these four characters in a virtuosic performance that brings a laugh to your belly and a tear to your eye.
John/Yoko Bed Piece opens tonight at the Theatre Centre, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the famous couple’s 1969 Montreal sleep-over party. It runs until June 7.