What's On at the Rhubarb Festival
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What’s On at the Rhubarb Festival

Toronto's annual critic-free festival of new theatrical creations is back for its 34th edition.

Nat Tremblay and Joce Tremblay will perform the puppet exploration of life and death, The Day You Died and the Hour You Were Born. Photo courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

This year’s Rhubarb Festival will feature the puppet exploration of mortality, The Day You Died and the Hour You Were Born. Photo courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Rhubarb Festival
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street)
February 20 to March 3, various times
Evening Passes $20, One-To-One Performances PWYC, Mobile Works FREE

It might not be time for rhubarb in your neighbourhood community garden just yet, but there’s plenty to be found at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The annual Rhubarb Festival—a showcase of new theatrical creations, experiments, and oddities—returns this Wednesday until March 3, with a wide variety of names and faces both new and familiar. Coming up are two weeks of dance, puppetry, theatre, music, and discussion programming, taking place both on-site and off, for large-scale audiences as well as extremely small ones. There’s sure to be something for everyone—as long as you’re not a critic (this is a star rating–free zone). Here’s a sampling of what’s making this year’s Rhubarb Festival especially spicy:

Week One (February 20 to 24)

Feel free to dance your face off at the Rhubarb Festival Kick-Off Bash with Vag Halen and DJ Vanessa Dunn on Wednesday night, but be sure to save some energy for seeing plays.

Sook-Yin Lee makes her theatrical debut in How Can I Forget?. Photo courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times.

Sook-Yin Lee makes her theatrical debut in How Can I Forget? Photo courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times.

As the biggest name on the docket, former The Wedge host, star of Shortbus, director of Year of the Carnivore, and CBC host of Definitely Not the Opera Sook-Yin Lee makes her theatrical debut (well, unless you count her first attempt at playwriting at 14 years old) with How Can I Forget?, which will be on the topic of memory. It plays February 22 and February 23, at 9:30 p.m.

Engaged is a silent film–style analysis of romantic relationships and their financial implications. Directed by Leora Morris and featuring Scott Christian (Hero & Leander, Through the Gates) on piano, it also boasts an all-star cast including Hume Baugh, David Christo, Collin Doyle, Sochi Fried, and Andy Trithardt. Not convinced? Get a sneak peek at the track list here. Engaged runs February 20 to 24, at 8 p.m.

Ravi Jain knows his way around a two-hander. He co-starred in Spent (currently finishing a remount at the Young Centre) and paired up with his own mother in A Brimful of Asha. Now he moves offstage as the director of The Faroe Islands, starring the always mesmerizing Claire Calnan and Jessica Moss. The play is the conclusion of playwright Nicolas Billon‘s Fault Lines trilogy, preceded by the acclaimed Greenland, winner of the Outstanding Production prize at the 2009 SummerWorks, and Iceland, coming to Factory Theatre next month after a hit run at the 2012 SummerWorks festival. The Faroe Islands has a very limited run
February 22 to 24, at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., for audiences of 15 people.

Week Two (February 27 to March 3)

Michael Rubenfeld with his mother Mary Berchard in mothermothermothermothermothermothermother…. Photo by Marjan Nemat Tavousi.

Michael Runbenfeld with his mother Mary Berchard in mothermothermothermother…. Photo by Marjan Nemat Tavousi.

Following the trend of actors sharing the stage with their real-life parents (Jain started it with A Brimful of Asha, World Stage will continue it with She She Pop & Their Fathers: Testament in April), mothermothermother… will unite Michael Rubenfeld with his mom, Mary Berchard. Sparked by a tense moment between Rubenfeld and his somewhat estranged parent while she was waiting for some important medical test results, this show is, by Rubenfeld’s admission, partly a way for him to improve his relationship with his mother. It could also be a universally moving story about the bridging of generations. It runs nightly throughout week two at 8 p.m., which is the same timeslot occupied by Step by Step, which presents a new dance each night inspired by a different how-to video on the Internet (so go two nights to see both).

Going from the realistic to the whimsical, Brescia Brixia Bloodbeard’s The Day You Died and the Hour You Were Born combines her breathtaking shadow puppetry with her slow, soft folk music. Sure to delight the eyes and ears, the show will also attempt to do something for the mind: its subject matter is the space between life and death. It runs nightly throughout week two at 8:30 p.m.

Montreal choreographer and performer George Stamos arrives in Toronto with his piece, Dandy Decay. As the creator, editor, and director, Stamos articulates his own coming out amid the AIDS epidemic, while exploring the evolving freedoms that different generations of the queer community have benefited from. Dandy Decay runs March 1 and 2 only, at 9:30 p.m.

Mobile Works and One-to-One Performances

Moving Installations will pop up in unexpected places. Photo by Frédérique Bérubé.

Moving Installations will pop up in unexpected places. Photo by Frédérique Bérubé.

Rhubarb’s free Mobile Works program is geared towards impromptu audiences. For instance, Moving Installations is a series of dance pieces that erupt unannounced in public places, to music by Ratatat and Daniel Belanger. Times and locations will be announced on the Mandoline Hybride blog, though we know the show will appear during week one only.

Week two’s only Mobile Works offering, Vigil(ance), requires a small pre-registered audience to embark upon a reclaiming mission through a selection of public Toronto spots that, at some point, made someone feel unsafe or uncomfortable. The group, led by Videofag’s Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis, will hold several one-minute candlelight vigils to vanquish fear in those spaces.

Meanwhile, the One-to-One Performances program returns to drastically heighten the performer-viewer relationship. Visit the pasts of a curated collection of objects in Eulogy, create your own disco ball light formations in Fearful Ghost of Former Bloom, or get a custom-embroidered piece of art on your clothing in Silver Threads and Golden Needles. All One-to-One Performances take place at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.

CORRECTION: February 22, 2012, 3:50 AM This post originally misspelled writer and actor Michael Rubenfeld’s name in a photo caption. We regret the error.