Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
This has been a week for big announcements in theatre. First off, Brendan Healy has been appointed as new artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, taking over from the departing David Oiye. And just this morning, Tarragon Theatre announced the winner of their inaugural Under 30 National Playwriting contest: Evan Placey for his play Mother of Him.
But it’s also been a great week for theatre openings! Two shows in particular caught our attention, both of them starring very deadly, if very different, leading ladies. Last Thursday, Antigone opened at the Young Centre, and last night, Tarragon opened their season with Mimi, or A Poisoner’s Comedy. Find out what we thought about both of them after the fold!
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
In January, Drama Club reported the following information about Soulpepper’s current season: “September starts with a really interesting choice: a new version of Antigone, adapted by Chris Abraham and One Reed Theatre’s Evan Webber, who is probably the youngest writer the company has ever worked with.” While this was all true at the time, somewhere between January and last week, a decision was made that Webber’s version of the script was not ready, and so the version currently being performed at the Young Centre is Lewis Gallantiere’s translation of Jean Anouilh’s version of the Greek tragedy. A change like this, late in the process, is not only disappointing to those of us who were excited by the idea of Soulpepper working with such a young writer, but also makes the production itself sound somewhat suspicious. Fortunately, this Antigone, directed by the very talented Chris Abraham, rises above its own offstage drama to become a thing of real beauty.
Although using Anouilh’s WWII-tinged 1944 script is a very Soulpepper choice, the production itself really feels like the work of Abraham and seems stylistically more in line with the work he’s done with Crow’s. So, it’s very darkly lit, but gorgeous. It’s one of the most gorgeous-looking shows we can remember seeing at the Young, with its brilliant use of dark wood panelling, television screens, focused lighting, and minimal sets. The story is simple, but beautifully told. Antigone gets up in the middle of the night to bury her disgraced brother, Polynices, against the wishes of her Uncle Creon. She makes her way through a series of conversations with her nurse, her sister Ismene, her fiancé, Haemon, and finally Creon himself, all of whom try to convince her not to bury her brother, lest she face severe punishment. Liisa Repo-Martell gives a typically compelling performance as Antigone, and David Storch is absolutely thrilling as the narrating Chorus, but the show truly belongs to national treasure R.H. Thomson, who brings an all-too-real humanity to the tyrant Creon (strangely, Nancy Palk is listed in the program as playing Eurydice, although neither she nor the character appear in this production). If you only see one Greek tragedy this year, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this one.
Meanwhile, over at Tarragon, a much, much sillier production has just opened their season to uproarious laughter and standing ovations. Mimi, or A Poisoner’s Comedy, a new musical with music and lyrics by Allen Cole and book and lyrics by Melody A. Johnson and Rick Roberts, is a deliciously wicked scream that kept us wildly entertained from start to finish. In fact, the opening number was so hysterically, riotously funny that when the lighting board shorted out sometime during the next scene, causing a complete stage blackout for several minutes, the audience was so entirely won over by this savagely charming show that they clapped, cheered, and forgave everything. Not that the show had anything else to apologize about.
Mimi, the show’s anti-heroine, is a “bad marquise”; a very rich, very debauched lady living in pre-Revolutionary France who seriously knows how to let herself eat cake. But when her father threatens to cut her off if she doesn’t mend her sinful ways, she’s forced to become a “good marquise.” That is, until her young country lover, D’Aubray, discovers the solution to all their problems: cyanide. Although her father is the first obvious target, many a poisoned pigeon pie gets tossed before the show is done. The whole cast is fabulous, but Trish Lindström shines very brightly in the star-making role of titular Mimi. As sweet as she is deadly, Trish manages to pull off Jennifer Saunders–esque comic timing and also has a phenomenal singing voice.
The design (once again, kudos to Camelia Koo) is sumptuous and perfect, the songs are catchy and well written, the jokes are hilarious, and the show manages to be the best new musical we’ve seen in ages. Expect to hear an awful lot more about Mimi.
Antigone runs until Oct 17.
Mimi, or A Poisoner’s Comedy runs until Oct 25.