Plus Long Winter, the Distillery District's Light Festival, and Toronto cover band Dwayne Gretzky starts a Friday-night residency at the Horseshoe Tavern.
Urban Planner is your weekly curated guide to what’s on in Toronto—things that are local, affordable, and exceptional.
Monday January 30
If you see an odd glow over the Distillery District for the next two months, don’t worry—President Trump (probably) hasn’t started a nuclear war. The Light Festival features more than 20 different installations and interactive displays scattered throughout the cobblestone-paved neighbourhood, including multiple giant animals, an animated roof-top leaping stick figure, and a galloping horse powered by viewers on a stationary bike. Every night until March 14, as soon as the sun goes down, the installations will light up—and it’s all free. Distillery District (55 Mill Street), Sunday-Wednesday, sundown-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, sundown-11 p.m., FREE.
A regular feature of the Long Winter series (see this weekend’s listings), Long Night with Vish Khanna is a live talk show, which is getting a six-episode taping run over the next few evenings. The three nights of tapings, which convene noteworthy Canadians to discuss a single subject, kick off tonight. Topics include “is rock music dead?” with Shad, Jasmyn Burke (Weaves), and music critic Carl Wilson (author, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End of Taste), and “do women thrive in the music biz?” with guests April Aliermo (Hooded Fang), Sandy Miranda (Fucked Up), and Fearless as Possible (Under The Circumstances) author Denise Donlon. The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West), Monday-Wednesday, doors at 7 p.m., taping begins 7:30/8 p.m., FREE.
Tuesday January 31
A cynic might have suspected Crow’s Theatre’s first show in their new east-end space was designed to showcase it as an event venue, and no doubt, party planners and their clients will likely look around the lofty and elegantly draped set with approval. But once The Wedding Party gets going, the audience gets swept up in the delightful commedia dell’arte-inspired proceedings: a wedding with fulsome potential for disaster based on the various agendas of two wholly mismatched families, whose members all have an agenda for the happy couple. The six-person cast all play multiple roles, and playwright Kristen Thomson has given herself some plum comedic turns, including a loud-mouthed mother of the bride and an exuberant family pet. But it’s Tom Rooney who steals the show as the machiavellian father of the bride and his estranged twin brother, who actually play off each other in some wonderfully creative scenes involving a video stream and a simpler solution. If this is the quality of show Crow’s will be presenting on a regular basis, they’ll have no trouble keeping their space packed. To February 11, Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Street), Monday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m., $20-$40.
Another comedy that weaves personal trauma into the mix, Diane Flacks’ Unholy is a truly satisfying work of theatre, featuring a cast of all women (save for Blair Williams’ unctuous debate host) fighting passionately for ideals that have nothing to do with individual men in their lives—though much to do with patriarchy. Flacks plays an atheist author, paired with a lapsed Catholic nun (Barbara Gordon), arguing against the value of organized religion. They face eloquent opponents in Niki Landau’s Orthodox rabbi and Bahareh Yaraghi’s charismatic young Muslim lawyer. As the debate progresses, we see key flashback moments of the women’s lives influencing their faith (or lack thereof), and their motivations for the debate, which starts out civil, and becomes unsustainably personal. To February 5, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street), Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2:30 p.m., $20-$35.
Wednesday February 1
Canadian filmmaker Michelle Latimer’s series for VICELAND, Rise, documents the Indigenous resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline, interviewing key figures and exploring the culture and history of those on the front lines of water protection. Latimer will be on hand to answer questions for TIFF’s Standing With Standing Rock: Conversations About VICELAND’S Rise, after a premiere screening of the first two episodes. TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West), 7 p.m., $20.
This month’s edition of Confabulation challenges storytellers—more than two dozen of them—to strip their best yarns down to the most essential threads, telling their stories in two minutes or less. Burdock (1184 Bloor Street West), doors at 7 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m., $10.
South Korean artist-provocateur Geumhyung Jeong makes her Toronto debut with a two night run of Oil Pressure Vibrator, her solo piece about a “love affair with an industrial excavator”. Part lecture, part film screening, part burlesque performance, Jeong recently debuted the piece in Canada at the PuSH Festival in Vancouver. We’re assuming it’s at least partly a commentary on industrial pillage as well as autoeroticism, but the only way to be sure is to see it. To February 2, The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m., $22-$30.
Thursday February 2
The folks at the Royal Cinema are celebrating Groundhog Day by screening the classic Bill Murray comedy, in which he plays a man mysteriously forced to live the same day over for a decade (or decades), multiple times. The screenings take place over a half day instead of a full 12 hours, but even geek appreciation has its limits. Your ticket is good for all three screenings, if you wish. The Royal Cinema (608 College Street), doors at 6 p.m., first screening at 6:30 p.m., second screening at 8:20 p.m., third screening at 10:10 p.m., $6-$10.
This month’s edition of First Thursday at the AGO, subtitled “Shapeshifters,” is built around a theatrical performance from Lido Pimienta, perhaps similar to her performance in Ayelen for SummerWorks in 2015. In addition to the headliner, DJs Ace Dillinger and DurtyDabz will be spinning in other courts. Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West), doors at 7 p.m., $13-$16.
Friday February 3
Acting Up Stage Theatre Company and Obsidian Theatre have collaborated on the Toronto premiere of Passing Strange, a terrific semi-autobiographical musical charting the earlier career of the Black American musician Stew. Narrated by Beau Dixon as the mature artist, it follows Stew as a teen (a dynamic Jahlen Barnes) who chooses to leave his mother (Ms. Divine Brown) and Los Angeles in favour of several years living in Europe, trying to find his authentic musical voice in the coffee shops of Amsterdam and in the punk collectives of Berlin. It’s no great spoiler to say that while he initially flourishes, away from the preconceptions and ingrained racism in his hometown, he becomes increasingly adrift without a community anchor. As much rock concert as play, the score is propulsive while still serving the story, and the cast is top-notch, weaving around the on-stage musicians for quick scene changes and sprightly numbers. It’s a short run—just until Sunday—so make this one a priority. To February 5, The Opera House (735 Queen Street East), Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., $35-$55.
Toronto cover band extraordinaire Dwayne Gretzky kicks off a Friday night residency at the ‘Shoe tonight, for every Friday night in February. Each night will have a theme, which are typically announced 48 hours prior to the show. There are no advance tickets, so you’ll want to line up early. Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen Street West), doors at 9 p.m., $20.
Weekend February 4-5
It’s called the Coldest Day of The Year Bike Ride, but the ride has actually happened in relatively warm temperatures the past few years—this weekend’s forecast currently predicts temperatures of -3 C. Wear a pair of long johns under your jeans and you should be fine, especially after the ride gets going. Once the ride ends, on Ryerson University campus, the plan is to head to Yonge Street for some warm drinks. Saturday, meet at Art Eggleton Park (323 Harbord Street), 11:00 meet, 11:30 a.m. ride, FREE.
Harbourfront Centre kicks off their February programming with Kuumba, Toronto’s longest-running celebration of Black History Month. The weekend event has proven so popular, it’s been expanded to two weekends—this weekend, and February 10-11. Highlights this weekend include the Trixx & Friends comedy showcase, running February 2-4 in the Artport studio theatre; and D’BI & The 333’s concert performance Friday night. For more details on events and dates, check the Harbourfront website. February 2-11, Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), various dates, times, and prices.
They’ve had to leave their traditional pub stage at the Victory Cafe behind, as the venue shuts its doors this week, but the scrappy classical actors of Shakespeare BASH’D have found a new local in the Monarch Tavern, where this week they’re staging Twelfth Night, one of the Bard’s most popular plays. The setting for this iteration is Paris during the Roaring ’20s, with a cast of a dozen populating the comedy about mistaken identities and long-lost family members reunited. To February 5, The Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton Street), Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2:30 p.m., $20.
Before they head out on an extensive tour of Canada, the US, and the UK, spooky folk balladeers Harrow Fair are playing one final tune-up gig at their local, the Dakota Tavern, with opener Skye Wallace. The Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Avenue), 7 p.m., $10.
This month’s edition of Long Winter takes place at the Theatre Centre, and includes music performances by such acts as Germaphobes and Ivy Mairi, art installations by Posi Vibes and It Could Still Happen, and Long Night with Vish Khanna (recovered from the tapings earlier in the week) and his guests Ali Hassan, the band L CON, and film critics Tina Hassania and Mallory Andrews. As per usual, the event is all ages, and accessible. The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), 7 p.m. onwards, PWYC.
Jennifer Walls has honed her hosting skills over several years of her weekly musical theatre open mic Singular Sensation. Now, she’s trying out her own spin on a variety night, The Jeni Show, and the first edition will feature talk with (and talent from) radio producer and host Megh Walls-MacBurnie, TV personality Allison Mang, performer Justin Bacchus, and more. Sunday, 120 Diner (120 Church Street), 6 p.m., PWYC.
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