I was privileged to do a bit of blogging for the Summerworks festival and I figured I might as well post those in one big post here for the benefit of the theatre going public. These reviews are very diplomatic, which is to say they’re more positive than I might have otherwise written them. That said, anybody with the ability to read between the lines will be able to tell which ones didn’t quite do it for me.
Breath In Between
Breath In Between, the newest piece by Eternal Hydra scribe Anton Piatagorsky, is a chilling exploration of the gaps that exist in our relationships to others and the lengths we’ll go to bridge them and thus experience even a moment of true connection. Brimming with a carefully brewed intensity, the play follows Roger, a soft spoken, introspective man who once placed an ad on the internet looking for strangers willing to let him kill them. Years after committing these grisly deeds, Roger meets and falls in love with a woman named Amy. However as their relationship develops their bond becomes overshadowed by the deeper, unique union shared by Roger and his victim.
Director Brendan Healy guides the actors through Piatagorsky’s poetic and contemplative text with quiet confidence. The piece, most of which has a wonderfully hushed quality to begin with, is anchored by a haunting performance by Paul Fateaux as Roger, who is tortured not only by the memories of his victims, but by the fleetingness of those connections. Bleak and darkly fascinating Breath In Between carries its audience into the most disturbing depths of the heart.
When It Rains
Perhaps it’s an old and perhaps insipid question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, but Anthony Black breathes new life into it with When It Rains, the new, media enhanced play presented by Halifax’s 2B Theatre. A bleak yet sharply hilarious, When It Rains explores whether it’s better to accept the world as a series of chances and coincidences, or if there is value in the very search for meaning, whether one stands a chance of finding it or not.
The play’s main focus in Alan, a self-described “math genius” and stockbroker, who sees the world only as a series of numbers and probabilities. While his wife Sybil remarks in awe at the series of chances and coincides that led to their coupling and happiness, Alan points out that had things occurred differently, their chances for happiness would be the same, albeit likely with other people. However, Alan’s faith in probability is challenged by a series of seemingly random, senseless tragedies which unravel his life in a Job-like fashion. While Alan clings to his philosophy, he chides his sister Anna as she flits half-heartedly through various Eastern religious practices. While these seem to fall short of offering her the understanding she seeks, the propulsion of her search seems to offers a purpose which Alan’s devotion to probability and meaninglessness lacks.
Most will agree that the projection design is the one of the biggest treats in this all around excellent production. The simple looking, yet innovatively utilized projections whisk the characters from scene to scene, never really seeming superfluous or gimmicky. Neither do they distract from the fine performances by Conner Green and the rest of the cast.
Artaud: un portrait en decomposition
Tragic figure, ex-communicated surrealist, blasphemer and madman, it’s easy to see why young artists are still attracted to the figure of Antonin Artaud, even some sixty years since his death. While the ideals espoused in his theoretical writings such as The Theatre and It’s Double have had an inestimable influence on contemporary theatre, the man and his work remains elusive. Adam Paolozza and TheatreRUN attempt bring the tortured artist back to life (for a while) in Artaud: un portrait en decomposition, a reverent biography of this enfant terrible.
The “decomposition” in the title refers to the final wasting years of Artaud’s life, much of which were spent in various asylums and institutions where he was heavily medicated and received controversial treatments such as electroshock therapy. Despite these inhospitable environments (or perhaps because of them), Artaud entered into a final, rather prolific, phase of writing after a long drought.
Performed almost entirely in French with English subtitles, Paolozza’s piece is an accessible introduction to the work of an often misunderstood and challenging figure.
Kitchenband, the ensemble that brought you Pelee and Reesor, return to Summerworks once again to transport us away from Toronto via their unique fusion of musical and theatrical performance. This time our destination is a farm in Southern Ontario, where a family of migrant Mennonites have been hired to pick tomatoes. The boss’s son Henry, returned to the farm after a failed attempt at being a musician, quickly strikes up a friendship with Susan, who used to attend his school. This association, however, troubles some members of her family, who believe it will provoke judgement from God and thus further hardship.
Utilizing a variety of ‘junkstruments’, the rural setting is wonderfully evoked by Andrew Penner’s alternately clonking, then ethereally lush compositions. Similarly, the sparseness of Erin Brandenberg’s text and direction perfectly emulates the tone of rural life. A lot the experience feels undramatic, but the slow simmer pays off in the end. Petrichor also features some excellent performances, particularly David Tompa as the stony and silent Peter whose thousand-yard stare seems to drill right through you.
A tightly knit triptych of monologues set under the clouds of the most recent economic crisis, Nicholas Billon’s Iceland examines how money creates relationships of power and subordination between people and blurs moral structures. On the need end of the spectrum is Kassandra (Christine Horne), a young woman from Estonia working as a prostitute to send money back to her family. Her current john is Halim (Kawa Ada), a self-described “capitalist” and real estate agent of Pakistani origin who fetishizes the almighty dollar and revels in the control it gives him over others. Finally, Anna (Clare Calnan) is a young Christian woman who has been evicted from her Liberty Village by Halim, who is looking to flip it and make a tidy profit.
All three characters are exquisitely performed; through perhaps the standout for me was Kawa Ada’s Halim, who argues his loathsome and enraging economic philosophy with such conviction and panache it’s hard to decide whether you want to punch him in the face or give him a high five. Of course, much of the credit must go to Billon’s intricately woven script which declines to pass judgement on even his most despicable of his characters. As if under the influence of cash, all moral bets are off.
It’s inevitable to compare the trio of monologues contained within I, Animal to the solo work that made Daniel MacIvor the golden boy of the Canadian theatre scene. Cynical yet optimistic, complex but breathtakingly simple, MacIvor has a gift for storytelling that emerges clearest when delivered by a single voice. Though the trio of monologues that comprises I, Animalaren’t directly related, each touches upon a character’s relationship or identification with a domesticated creature: a dog to fill the space left by a lost lover, a dead cat that turns a young boy’s life upside down and the horse that every little girl dreams to ride.
Sturdy direction by Richie Wilcox anchors a trio of fine performances. Stewart Legere as the boy in the hoodie hilariously embodies the confusion awkwardness of teenage life while on the other end of the spectrum, Katheryn McLellan finds great emotional depth in an aging woman bemoaning her lost youth. For rabid fans of Daniel MacIvor I, Animal is a tasty snack that is sure to satisfy.
When Mani Soleymanlou, then a student at the National Theatre School in Montreal, is asked to speak about his home country of Iran he doesn’t know what to talk about. Initially he imagines telling the audience about the beauty of the country, of the mountains and the snow (yes, there’s snow), but as he thinks upon it he realizes that he doesn’t really know anything about Iran. After the Iranian revolution Mani’s parents relocated with him to Paris, then eventually to Toronto where he went to high school. Since then he’s been back only a handful of times and due to Iran’s compulsory military service, Mani hasn’t seen his home country since he was fifteen.
Disarmingly hilarious, One/Un is the theatrical result of Mani’s search for his Persian identity. Delivered in a wonderfully casual manner, Soleymanlou charms and delights as he negotiates what it means to be a man without a country. It’s one of those rare pieces of theatre that doesn’t feel like a theatrical presentation, but it certainly doesn’t lack the impact of a carefully constructed play. Rather as Soleymanlou’s relaxed demeanor falls away we clearly see the scope of his predicament; how can he reconcile his origin, an integral part of his self, when his home remains so frustrating out of reach?