What's Hot at SummerWorks 2011
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What’s Hot at SummerWorks 2011

Image of Malaria Lullaby. Photo by Monica Dottor.

SummerWorks! In case you haven’t seen/heard/written that word enough in the past few weeks (because we certainly have), here it is again. SummerWorks! SummerWorks is one week away!
Yes, there was a government funding crisis. Yes, it’s allegedly because Stephen Harper and the Sun think the festival is sympathetic towards terrorists. Yes, now artists around the country are royally pissed, sparking a potential war between the Conservatives and the Creatives fought on the stage and in the media. Allegedly. And yes, all this is important. But let’s not forget the real purpose of the SummerWorks Theatre Festival, shall we? The theatre (there’s lots of music too, but we’ll have more on that later).
This year, Canada’s largest juried theatre festival received even more submissions than ever, over 200 to be exact. So we’ve got very high hopes for the 40 that were chosen. And since this article is even more juried than that, here are the shows that we’ve got REALLY high hopes for:

Exit, pursued by a bear 20110728_summerworksbear.jpg
Quality Slippers Productions
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
August 6, 10:30 p.m.
August 7, 5:30 p.m.
August 8, 10:30 p.m.
August 9, 8 p.m.
August 12, 3 p.m.
August 13, 5:30 p.m.

Any undergrad forced through “Intro to Shakespeare” can tell you the title of this play comes from one of the bard’s lesser performed plays (though tackled this year in High Park), The Winter’s Tale. Back in the days of the Globe Theatre, the issue of wrangling a bear onstage was a complex and often dangerous question, but in Exit, pursued by a bear, puppets solve the question. Set in Vancouver, the play sees a beggar and a young girl form an unlikely friendship, and one haunted by the specter of a grizzly. Staged by Quality Slippers Productions, whose mandate is to explore questions of Canadian identity, the program notes suggest Exit delves into the connections between humans and bears, but there’s a good chance it will also pursue something much deeper. (Kiva Reardon)

Little One
Theatre Crisis 20110728_summerworkslittleone.jpg
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
August 5, 8:00 p.m.
August 7, 3 p.m.
August 9, 5:30 p.m.
August 11, 10:30 p.m.
August 13, 8 p.m.
August 14, 3 p.m.

Considering the name of Little One’s production company, Theatre Crisis, it is somewhat fitting that it is all but un-Googleable. The playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, on the other hand, is anything but: her previous work, The Russian Play , won the Jury Prize for Best New Production at SummerWorks (2006) and she is currently the playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre. This latest work is set in her native Ottawa and explores the intensity and destruction of love between two adopted siblings. Toronto theatre-goers (and Murdoch Mystery watchers) will recognize Michelle Monteith (who has worked with Moscovitch before in The Russian Play) who co-stars alongside Joe Cobden. Describe as a “lullaby-nightmare,” it will be interesting to see if Moscovitch’s latest work can live up to her previous acclaim. (Kiva Reardon)

The Intruder
Alameda Theatre Company 20110728_summerworksintruder.jpg
Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
August 5, 5:30 p.m.
August 6, 10:30 p.m.
August 8, 8 p.m.
August 9, 10:30 p.m.
August 13, 5:30 p.m.
August 14, 12:30 p.m.

More puppets! Mexican playwright and puppeteer Amaranta Leyva tackled this production in English (her second language), working closely with Latin-Canadian theatre company Alameda. In a now-common modern tale, young Catalina begins to question the slick exterior of her mother’s new boyfriend (mayhaps an alluded to intruder?) after her parents’ divorce. Though it sounds heavy, the play’s video preview captures a certain levity, largely due to Paloma Nuñez (Catalina). (At the video’s end she ad libs with her puppet, declaring: “I know the part in my bones…well my fluff.”) Primarily using the puppets to express Catalina’s inferiority, The Intruders promises not only a familial drama but also a reflection on trust, childhood, and truth. (Kiva Reardon)

You Should Have Stayed Home
Praxis Theatre/The Original Norwegian 20110728_summerworksg20.jpg
Theatre Centre (1087 Queen Street West)
August 4, 5 p.m.
August 6, 2:30 p.m.
August 7, 10 p.m.
August 10, 7:30 p.m.
August 12, midnight
August 13, 10 p.m.

After theatre artist Tommy Taylor was arrested, and detained for over 24 hours, the words he heard most were “You should have stayed home.” So he wrote his own. 11,000 of them, on his Facebook page. Since then, Taylor and his memoir of his experience, titled How I Got Arrested and Abused at the G20 in Toronto, have become accidental icons of Canada’s largest mass arrest. Now, his words are hopping from the screen to the stage in a partnership between Taylor’s company The Original Norwegian and Praxis Theatre, under the direction of Michael Wheeler and starring Taylor himself. With big names, big subjects, and an even bigger cast (comprised of up to 40 male and female volunteers), this is one of the most hyped plays at SummerWorks, so don’t stay home for this one. (Carly Maga)

Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week
Thompson and Fine 20110728_summerworksfreda.jpg
The Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
August 5, 8:00 p.m.
August 7, 12:30 p.m.
August 8, 10:30 p.m.
August 10, 10:30 p.m.
August 11, 5:30 p.m.
August 12, 8 p.m.

Take the Mother of Canadian theatre, Judith Thompson, and pair her with the poet/writer/singer/songwriter/Queer activist Lois Fine, and we’re positive the resulting work of art, Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week will be a touching yet funny, gentle yet gut-wrenchingly raw portrayal of queer families and feminine tropes. And that’s not to mention the cast, which includes Diane Flacks and Fine’s own daughter, Sadie Epstein-Fine. These are some women who don’t roar so much as they simply rock. (Carly Maga)

tiny bird theatre/Sore for Punching You 20110728_summerworkscombat.jpg
Theatre Centre (1087 Queen Street West)
August 4, 7:30 p.m.
August 6, 10 p.m.
August 9, 10 p.m.
August 11, 7:30 p.m.
August 12, 5 p.m.
August 14, 5 p.m.

The trio of director Claire Calnan, choreographer Allison Cummings, and playwright Adam Underwood is not afraid of a hefty task. First, they organized a 57-hour marathon reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a fundraiser for their show. Second, in their SummerWorks project Combat, they’re fusing theatre and dance together to explore the power of strife and pain to infect one’s life, from intimate personal problems to international crises taking place miles away. With some of the city’s most acclaimed theatre creators, Combat probably won’t be as daunting or distressing to sit through. At least not in a bad way. (Carly Maga)

The Physical Ramifications of Attempted Global Domination
Birdtown & Swanville

Photo by James Di Donato.

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
August 5, 5:30 p.m.
August 6, 3 p.m.
August 9, 10:30 p.m.
August 10, 5:30 p.m.
August 12, 8 p.m.
August 14, 12:30 p.m.

In Dead Wrestlers at last year’s Rhubarb Festival, Birdtown and Swanville’s collaborators dressed in outlandish costumes and threw down in a no-holds-barred group wrestling match. For their SummerWorks debut, the ladies are promising another epic combat showdown, but this time, eight infamous dictators from history will face off “in competitions of physical strength and fortitude, tests of wit, and balloon crushing races.” Yes, a battle royale, with party supplies! To further confound oddmakers on whether Pol Pot or Idi Amin will win in a dance-off, writer-directors Nika Mistruzzi and Aurora Stewart de Peña have researched the phenomenon of how the dictators suffered from a physical ailment brought on by the stress of trying to conquer the world, which will indubitably handicap their competitions (Hitler’s foaming at the mouth could really make blowing up balloons difficult.) (Steve Fisher)

Still Life
LemonTree creations

Photo by Max Telzerow. This image has been cropped.

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
August 5, 4:30 p.m.
August 6, 7 p.m.
August 8, 9:30 p.m.
August 9, 7:30 p.m.
August 11, 4:30 p.m.
August 13, 9:30 p.m.
August 14, 2 p.m.

Inspired by the still-unsolved gay bashing of Christopher Skinner, this new play brings lovers, friends, and strangers together at the bedside for a man in hospital after a brutal attack. We saw an early reading at the 519 last summer, and were impressed with the cast’s collective creation; with a year’s polish, it could be a very stirring examination of contemporary queer culture and homophobia. Company member Cole Alvis was cited for Outstanding Performance by Now Magazine at SummerWorks 2007 for his lead role in Nelly Boy; Indrit Kasapi’s play Red Devil earned fellow collective member Jonathan Seinem an Outstanding Direction nod from Now at SummerWorks 2008, so these fellows have a strong track record at this festival. (Steve Fisher)

Malaria Lullaby
Company Blonde
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
August 4, 8 p.m.
August 6, 5:30 p.m.
August 7, 10:30 p.m.
August 11, 8 p.m.
August 13, 10:30 p.m.
August 14, 8 p.m.

The dancer-creators behind Nuit Blanche’s Red Venus are taking to the air in the latest Company Blonde project, Malaria Lullaby; an aerial rigging credit for veteran aerial acrobat Holly Treddenick hints the otherworldly characters will be moving vertically as well as horizontally. Lighting and sound by The Playground’s Ben Chiasson and Beth Kates promise to elevate the performance in other ways, too. (Steve Fisher)

Elora Gorge
The Room

Photo by Carlos Diaz.

The Theatre Centre (1087 Queen Street West)
August 4, 10 p.m.
August 6, 5 p.m.
August 8, 10 p.m.
August 10, 5 p.m.
August 13, 7:30 p.m.
August 14, 12 p.m.

We saw a short reading of Elora Gorge back in April at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Buzz Festival, and it certainly piqued our interest; it read like a humorous episode of The X-Files, with a rural Ontario twist. Writer Chris Stanton and lighting designer Trevor Schwellnus both scored Dora awards recently—Stanton for his performance in The Electric Ballroom, Schwellnus for Nohayquiensepa, which starred Stanton—so we’re confident this show will be fleshed out creatively in terms of sound, lighting, and design, especially since the company exceeded their target for a Kickstarter funding campaign. Plus, for this, his solo playwriting debut, Stanton’s assembled a crack ensemble of actors, many of them former cast mates, such as Janet Porter and Aviva Armour-Ostroff (The Last Days of Judas Iscariot), and Stewart Arnott and Dov Michelson (The Gladstone Variations.) (Steve Fisher)

Images courtesy of the SummerWorks Festival.

CORRECTION: July 28, 2011, 1:25 PM This post originally misspelled the name of Trevor Schwellnus. We apologize.
CORRECTION: July 28, 2011, 3:00 PM This post stated that Tommy Taylor “was arrested and spent 40 hours in a cage,” when it should have said he was detained for more than 24 hours. It also identified Taylor’s company as The Last Norwegian when it is The Original Norwegian.